Emotions, like any human perceptual experience results in a physiological change at the level of the brain and body. Subsequently, any change affecting the body results in the expression of those changes via human behavior. As people grow up they develop patterns of behavior to help them relate to their environment and other humans, emotions certainly affected the development of said patterns. Emotions, being such salient controllers of behavior may have proved to be helpful instincts for the organisms that possessed them (Zuk, 2013). For example, without fear an early human may not have recognized the need to run away from a larger predator. Without happiness an early human may not have recognized situations that were healthy for them to engage in. Without love, there might not be as healthy of abundance of procreation. Some might argue that emotions are now a maladaptive process in that some individuals experience intense emotions such as anxiety or depression that can actually result in negative human behaviors. Even impulsivity is not a positive emotion in many cases and yet it is prevalent in many human beings today. However, there are reasons for every single emotion even though some may not protect human beings as well today as they did in the past.
Anxiety provides a perfect example as it is undeniable that anxiety is helpful in saving an individual from a predator, while in modern times being anxious in situations that are not dangerous may be problematic, this does not mean that at one time it was not beneficial.
In the evolutionary view of emotions, repeated exposure to variable situations produced a particular chemical response at a very basic and instinctual level. For example, spending time with other humans in a community might have instilled feelings of happiness or security. Consequently, a human experiencing said emotions might have been more likely to remain in the group where they maintained the benefit of protection from others (Nesse & Ellsworth, 2009). Because human beings are communal creatures, it is an important aspect of life that humans beings remain true to the cultures they associate with otherwise they may be expelled from their culture altogether. That is not to say people always want to act with the best intentions of others in mind. Anger can lead people to want to harm others and yet another emotion, guilt or shame balances that person’s perspective so they do not do something against the principles of society.
- Zuk, Marlene (2013). Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY.