How Do I Feel About It? Emotion As Information

oropa_sanct Emotion is information. Almost without exception, humans use their feelings to make judgments and decisions. Decisions are often made simply by asking ourselves, “How do I feel about it?” Most individuals do this feeling-based evaluation of significant aspects of their environment almost automatically. It is not infrequent that someone will rely almost entirely on emotion in making even very significant decisions.

Before discussing whether this is good or bad, it is undeniable that the information provided by emotions is about value—that is, about whether something or someone can be appraised in a positive or negative way.

Emotion as information can be illustrated as the means by which such positive or negative value is conveyed internally to ourselves, just in the same way as facial expressions of emotion convey the same type of information to others. Additionally, emotional appraisal is generally much more immediate, i.e. faster, than cognitive (reasoned) appraisal. In other words, we are capable of “feeling” positive or negative about something or someone much faster and earlier than we can “understand” or “evaluate cognitively” their real worth. This innate capability is well known to all of us as having a gut feeling, feeling it in one’s stomach, having a sixth sense, and many other such metaphors in every human language.

In this respect, emotion is therefore a powerful source of information. The fact that we do not always, or cannot, or even at time should not trust this information implicitly and rely solely on its appraisal of value, does not diminish its importance or its significance. The individual who learns to refine and trust this sixth sense, which we also call intuition, can benefit from a richer and more nuanced source of positive and negative data about the environment. When relied upon to form a valuable first impression, and to trigger and supplement the power of rational thinking, the results can be quite spectacular.

While rational thinking requires both skill and application, and is most particularly useful in determining the meaning of things, people and events, emotions transmit information in a much more direct way as physical or biological sensations. The limbic system, the central processing unit of emotional information, conveys its messages not simply through neural linkages with the frontal cortex (where higher reasoning takes place) but primarily through bodily sensations. The immediacy, strength and unfailing manifestation of this emotional information is one of the principal reasons that people find the information from feelings to be especially credible. Very often we discover that we should have listened to that gut feeling, or can congratulate ourselves on having followed our good hunch.