In the weeks and months following the heinous terror attacks of September 11, millions of Americans decreased their domestic air travel. As domestic flying decreased, car travel increased where a study found that people opted to drive longer distances rather than fly. Not taking into account 9/11, there were 331 airplane crash fatalities in the U.S from 1751 crash events. What’s interesting is there were 42,000 driving-related deaths in that same year. The number of deaths in air travel and road travel remained relatively consistent in subsequent years.
Statistics imply that post 9/11, Americans were more willing to risk mortality of long-distance car travel rather than adopt the minimal risk of air travel, presumably due to the perception of risk involved from terrorism threats. We can believe that the September 11 terrorist attacks may have resulted in a secondary toll of deaths as people made poor choices to avoid scenarios of risk. What has been made clear, is any large-scale threat to public safety affects our emotions and the decisions we make.
Our Emotional Responses
Our emotional responses are a reaction to the world around us. We’re supposed to smile at babies because it’s our evolutionary advantage to give infants positive emotions. We’re supposed to react with a fight or flight response under perceived danger because self-preservation is part of our DNA. What we don’t often think about is the thousands of micro reactions we face every day. The waiter at the restaurant is polite, so we respond with kindness.
The car next to us cuts us off in traffic, so we abuse them. While many emotional expressions are universal, sociocultural norms can dictate how we respond when coming across an intense emotion. For example, in Japan, people tend to hide their display of fear or disapproval when an authoritative figure is present. Conversely, in western culture like the United States, people are more likely to express their negative emotions in their presence and with others.
We can come across an intense emotion, not ignore it, control it, and use it to make the world a better place. Climate change, domestic abuse and human trafficking are all relevant examples in today’s world. Even protests of racial injustice become fueled by emotion. The adverse reaction we may feel about these issues can be used more positively by donating our time, helping others, or educating ourselves and those around us to become more aware.
Emotion is our human way of putting a meaningful stamp on our experiences. They are a key driver in our behaviour and shape our responses to what’s around us. Emotions enable us to make decisions, take action, connect and communicate with others, and build meaningful friendships and relationships. Our feelings are either short-lived or long-lasting. Understanding emotional behaviour in others informs us how to adapt our behaviour accordingly.
In our daily lives, we are often told not to ‘get too emotional’. When females show emotion, others see it as showing “too much”, or “overreacting”. Conversely, when men show too much emotion, or any form of emotion- Others may see it as being “weak”.
Emotions and Decision Making
Many of the decisions we make in our lives are almost instant and based on emotion. We’re not always in charge and can be too impulsive or deliberate for our own good. One moment we get a hot head and explode with the confidence of an idea; the next we’re paralysed by uncertainty. Antonio Damasio’s research has been instrumental in helping humans understand how emotions influence our behaviour- in particular, how we make decisions.
One of Damasio’s studies took a look into those who had damage to the brain’s emotional circuitry. In addition to finding that such people could not feel emotions, he also uncovered that they are unable to make decisions. The patients were able to describe the action they should be taking, but could not settle on a decision, even as simple as what to eat. Emotions enable us to weigh up options and come to what we believe to be the best outcome for ourselves. They are a vital component of our decision-making process.
When making a decision, we look for a way to satisfy a basic human need: happiness. It is why many of our choices are unconscious attempts to avoid guilt, fear and negative feelings, whilst trying to enhance our positive emotions simultaneously.
The strong influence our emotions have over our thought process means that our decisions are susceptible to error. And because we value our time, decisions are often fast and automatic, where we can feel a certain way for as long as possible. We then don’t often realise the full impact of the emotional interference in our decisions.
“Human behavior flows from three main sources: Desire, emotion and knowledge.” – Plato
3 Ways To Identify and Help Our Emotions
Our emotions are there for a reason. They act as the rudder of a ship that helps us navigate and steer through calm and rough seas. Taking time to understand our emotions and feelings not only spares us from unexpected breakdowns, but it’s also how we can create a happier self and live a happier life.
Take time to engage with people. Read the emotions in their faces and show them you’re listening and paying attention. Visual feedback and facial cues often work well where your mirror neurons are activated and help you become more engaged.
Communicate your emotions with others. Learn to articulate your thoughts and feelings and feel whether your automatic response is appropriate. Suppose you can identify the source of the emotional trigger. In that case, you will be able to assess the emotional temperature of a conversation better and defuse any tension through your actions.
Slow Down. Think and assess what is happening around you. Our decision-making is capable of making errors in judgement and becomes easily influenced. By applying logical and rational thinking, you will be able to judge situations more effectively.
With exercising to help your emotions consistently, the growth that comes with it will set you up for success. Whether it’s personally or professionally, nurturing how you feel and becoming aware of strategies in dealing with emotions will create exponential happiness.
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