How to never get mad again (kind of) (part two) cover image

How to never get mad again (kind of) (part two)

Dorian Minors • June 23, 2014

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Once of our most popular articles talks about WHY we feel emotions. Emotions are thought to motivate us to fix things in our environment. Guilt makes us want to confess to something naughty. Anger often motivates us to right a perceived injustice. Shame? We did something socially unacceptable and now we have to wheedle our way back into good graces. Well, psychologists think that we feel emotions when our day to day 'mindless' routines (see the article I linked before) are stopped short. Maybe you're off to work and your shoes aren't where they usually are. Some things we don't really think about when we go about our lives. We have expectations or as psychologists call 'em 'schemas' and when these are interrupted, psychologists say we feel an emotion.

You know the Mirriam-Webster has like 100 synonyms for the word 'sad'? Photo courtesy of Aimee (Flickr) You know the Mirriam-Webster has like 100 synonyms for the word 'sad'? Photo courtesy of Aimee (Flickr)

Now, it's all well and good to say we'll feel an emotion, but our brains have such a delightful selection to choose from. How do our brains choose which one? Well, attribution theorists (a social-cognitive type view) have a pretty useful idea about that. Now, if you read that post I just linked, you'll know this isn't the only explanation. It's just one of the more useful ways to think about and combat jealousy in your everyday life!

Ok, so your routine has been interrupted. Your brain has woken up. You've decided that it's certainly important, and the it's important and bad (negative valence, as psychologists call it). Your attribution machine kicks in. Let's break it down, choose your own adventure style:

Attribution theorists reckon that once your brain shoots through all these decisions, it makes up it's mind about the Responsibility (what or who was to blame) and consequently what sort of emotion we're likely to feel. What sort of motivation we need to go about putting all of those decisions we just made back into alignment.

'Must. Not. Punch. In. Face... Must. Use. Checklist.' Photo courtesy of Alfredo11 (Flickr) 'Must. Not. Punch. In. Face... Must. Use. Checklist.' Photo courtesy of Alfredo11 (Flickr)

So, how can we use this framework to control our emotions? Well, we could just do what our brain wants. Give in to the emotion and act on it. But that's obviously not always gonna help us, or you wouldn't be reading this. Well, you've got to consciously go through your checklist. Identify what it is you're thinking. If you can answer out loud everything on our list, you can probably see why you feel the way you feel and get a handle on your emotions. It's a method that psychologists use everyday. Heard of anger management? You'll see it there. Just spend a minute running through the checklist before acting, you might find you've just made some ridiculous attributions, or maybe you've got it right and you're hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Either way, can't hurt to take a breath right?

Alright, now you know how emotions happen, maybe you can figure out what sort of attributions might lead to jealousy or maybe you can see how complicated things can get when two people mash their routines together? 'Til next time, at The Dirt Psychology.

Thumbnail image courtesy of René Kasman (Flickr)

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.