Free Press Journal

Why people become emotional

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The degree of wish fulfilment, too, determines the intensity of emotions, says Dr SHRIRANG BAKHLE.

All of us know people who are ‘emotional’. Some people are prone to anger: they become angry often – and quite intensely. Then there are people who are always sad. Slightest problem and they start crying. There are some who are extremely anxious. They are afraid of many things. Slightest hint of trouble and they start imagining the worst. Then, of course, we know people who are ‘happiness-prone’! They are always cheerful, they laugh easily and keep seeing the humorous angle of every situation.

Why is it that different people are emotional for different emotions i.e. prone to different emotions. Some people are prone to two or more emotions. For example, we know people who are generally cheerful but when they become angry, they just blow up!


It is also true that this ‘emotionality’ or ‘emotion-proneness’ can change over time. We all know people who were once cheerful but due to some reasons, have become sad or fearful or irritable.

This article describes the reasons why different people become emotional i.e. prone to different emotions. What is it that determines the intensity of emotions? When different people are exposed to similar situations or problems, they show different emotional reactions. For example, when you hear the news that a close relative has been admitted to a hospital. Do you react with intense fear or sadness or anger (related to somebody’s carelessness etc.)? Or you become disturbed a little but regain calmness immediately? What is it that determines the intensity of the emotions?

One of the main factors that determines the intensity of emotions is the intensity of the wish involved. For example, if a student has an intense wish to win a competition, then the resulting emotion will be intense. If the student wins, he will be very happy. But if s/he loses then s/he will be very sad. On the other hand, if the wish is not intense, the emotions will be less intense.

The degree of wish fulfilment, too, determines the intensity of emotions. For example, if a sportsperson wins the gold medal, s/he will be very happy. If s/he wins the silver or bronze, s/he will be less happy. Of course, if the sportsperson was sure of winning the gold, s/he may actually become very, very unhappy if s/he wins the silver medal!

The pre-existing mood, too, determines the intensity of emotions. For example, suppose, you are not afraid of the dark. But you see a horror movie at night. So, you get into a fearful mood. Then you get into bed to sleep. At that time, suddenly you hear a noise outside your house. You are likely to be startled – which normally you would not. This is the impact of the pre-existing mood. This is true for all emotions. Suppose, you have watched some ‘angry’ movie or TV programme or speech. Then if you see or read about some ‘injustice’ you are likely to react with more intense anger than you normally would. This is how different leaders or movies use media to incite different emotions in a large number of people.

One peculiar property of the emotions is that when a particular emotion becomes too intense, it can inhibit other emotions. For example, sometimes we experience a mixture of emotions. Consider a roller-coaster ride. We experience a mixture of happiness and fear. But suppose, on a particular ride we get the belief that the roller-coaster is about to break. Then, suddenly, fear will become intense.

 It will suppress the happiness completely. This type of suppression of one emotion by another can be seen with all emotions. If a person is intensely sad and depressed, that sadness will supress the happiness completely. Even if such a person is offered some food that s/he normally loves, s/he will not experience any happiness. This is reverse emotionality. The person cannot experience an emotion because it has been suppressed by another more intense emotion.

The most important property of Emotion Centres is that if a particular Emotion Centre is used often, it becomes more excitable. This means the person becomes more prone to that emotion. Suppose a person becomes angry repeatedly. Then her/his Anger Centre will become more excitable: s/he will become prone to that emotion. This emotion-proneness means a small anger provoking incident will trigger a much more intense anger. The same is true for other emotions, too. If a person becomes afraid often, s/he will become prone to fear. The same for sadness and happiness.

As can be seen, this becomes a self-perpetuating process. Because you became sad often, you become prone to sadness. This in turn leads to more sadness.

We can use this knowledge to our advantage. We can choose to become happiness-prone and less prone to sadness, fear and anger!