Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Emotions as Evaluations

"People in good moods are better at inductive reasoning and creative problem solving." - Salovey, Mayer, Goldman, Turvey, and Palfai

Many years ago I read a book, the name of which I cannot remember, that suggested that emotions are evaluations. I was stuck by that, since at that time it had occurred to me that without emotions there can be no right or wrong (that's why all those stories about driving computers insane by arguing with them are completely ridiculous).

Imagine if you had no feelings. If someone asked you to push a button destroying the world, why not? You'd have no feelings about it either way.

It's why insects are so creepy: they have no feelings (which is why I think Alien and Predator are insectoid). The more feelings you have, the more human you are; the less feelings you have, the more inhuman you are.

Someone like Tony Robbins figured out this simple concept years ago:

(This is a long video and you might want to watch it later).

This understanding of how emotion works is why Robbins does not call himself a motivational speaker. It's also why he wrote, "When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears."

Gratitude, fear, abundance...are these not feelings, ones we have inside and which we use to evaluate things outside? And inside, too, for that matter, which is why we speak of a "poor self-image" and "self-esteem." It's how we evaluate ourselves.

I also read an article some years about a judge who had some sort of brain injury and lost his feelings. People thought he might make a better judge since they thought he'd be more dispassionate. In reality he had to quit his job since he he had enough sense to realize he could no longer tell right from wrong. He couldn't evaluate anything.

Emotions can be positive, negative and indifferent. Think about all those negative emotions out there - hate, envy, wrath - and all the problems they cause in the world, because we evaluate those things as being negative.

When you see people run from things, they are evaluating those things as being negative, that is, painful. If they go toward them, they see them as positive, happiness inducing. Actually, years ago the concept of "emotional intelligence" was introduced and has become famous.

I can't see us getting away from evaluating everything.

I've written before of the concept of "mirroring": you see yourself in how others treat you. Imagine if you spend your life being ignored (ostracized). Then you can end up like Elliot Roger.

So when I see people flee from something I know they are fleeing situations they evaluate as painful, that is, they give them painful feelings.

Let's take marriage, for example. The marriage rate has dropped dramatically, and most men are evaluating it as a bad deal and fleeing it (which is why trying to shame them - an unpleasant feeling - into "manning up an marrying those sluts" - isn't going to work.

A bit more than half of the people are married and soon it might drop to less than half.

One of the problems, which all men know about, is women evaluating them negatively ("where have all the good men gone?") That evaluation comes from all sides. And if that trope is true, that women find 80% of men unattractive, well, that's just going to make things worse.

When women are hired over men (Affirmative Action means "White Men Need Not Apply" how is that going to make men not flee from women? And why should contribute anything beyond what it takes for them to survive, when anything beyond that is painful and unpleasant?

Everyone wants all the good feelings they can get, for as long as possible.

I try to look at things as simply as possible. Emotions are evaluations: people flee from the painful and toward the pleasant because they evaluate the first as bad and the second as good, and those aren't hard things to understand!


Anonymous said...

You get more of what you reward and less of what you punish.

Bob Wallace said...

Yep, basic economics.

Anonymous said...

"Basic economics"

Up to a point. But if you offer rewards for the impossible (sex for satisfying the contradictory demands of women who dislike men, for example), then you won't get more of the desired behavior. You will get system breakdown instead. The people you're trying to incentivize (or deincentivize) have to be on board with your ideas of what incentives/deincentives are. So behavior modifications works but only within a certain context. Imagine offering a million bucks to any paraplegic who learns to tap dance like Gene Kelly. Contrary to the expectations of nerdy economists, I can confidently predict that there will be no upswing in the desired behavior. The origin of unintended consequences lies in screwy incentive structures.