Function of Emotion

Some of the functions served by emotion are as follows;

  • Intrapersonal functions – It refers to the functions that emotions serve within individuals. They help one guide behaviour and make decisions to survive and function as human beings. For instance, they inform us when to fight and when to leave a dangerous situation.


  • Interpersonal functions – It refers to functions that are performed by emotions between individuals. Emotional expression serves as an indication to others about how one might feel about them. For instance, Positive facial expression (smile) encourages other people to approach us whereas showing sadness may stimulate others to show empathy.


  • Social and cultural functions – It refers to functions that are performed by emotions in the construction and maintenance of societies and cultures. For instance, Emotions such as trust often act as a social glue that keeps groups together.



Some inter-related terminologies

  • Emotions vs. Feelings – Feelings are created by emotions which refers the self- perception of a specific emotion. When an event occurs, we first respond automatically even without awareness (emotion) and then registers or evaluates this (feeling).

 Suppose, your crush (love at first sight) ask you for friendship then your heartbeat and breathing might increase immediately (Emotion). After some time, you realise that the feeling experienced by you was of contentment.

  • Emotions vs. Mood – While emotions last for short periods of time and arise in response to a particular event whereas moods are of lower intensity, generally last for longer periods of time and may not necessarily be associated with an immediate event.

While emotions are directed at something or someone (e.g. you are angry at your wife), moods can arise for no apparent reason, such as waking up irritable one morning without having any unpleasant experience last night.



Emotions, thinking and behaviour are inextricably linked. One’s thought or interpretation of a situation has a significant impact on the emotion one feels and the way one behaves.

For instance, Imagine your girlfriend suddenly shouts at you. This is an emotional stimulus and you interpret the outburst as “my girlfriend is angry with me” or “my girlfriend is rude”.

Depending on what you think about the stimulus, you will experience a feeling. If your interpretation (Thinking) of the situation is that – my girlfriend is angry, you might feel confused and ask her why she is angry (Behaviour).

If you think that your girlfriend is being rude, you might experience anger and shout back at her too (Behaviour).

Thus, behaviour changed based on the interpretation of the emotional stimulus.

Though changing one’s interpretation of an event can guard against overwhelming emotions. For instance, by changing your appraisal to “she doesn’t mean it”, you could easily brush- off her behaviour.

Appraisals, therefore, have the power to impact our reactions to the daily experiences of emotions, especially those that are unpleasant and stressful. This is very important for civil servants who are exposed to these experiences on daily basis in order to insulate oneself from getting demotivated at work.