I have always wondered why emotions have developed in humans. What was the evolutionary advantage offered that has allowed them to appear and develop over the millennia? These are the kinds of questions that have occupied my mind even before I ended up studying Zoology at university.
Now I think I have at least an insight into this fascinating subject thanks to Michelle Baddeley and her fantastic little book, Behavioural Economics: A Very Short Introduction. It was one of my New Year resolutions to study this subject.
Evolution has been driven by efficiency. Those animals that can most effectively survive long enough to reproduce will pass their genes onto the future generations. It is a fine balance between consuming enough energy to still be there and attracting a mate.
I don’t know if other animals have emotions, I presume so but am assuming that they are most developed in humans. I suspect that the reason lies in our enlarged brains and our ability to think. Ironically the more power you have to think then the more you realise there is to think about.
Could it be that (so-called) lower and less cognitively developed animals have less opportunity to think about the dangers and opportunities that present themselves to them. Their reactions are therefore limited and innate. Humans on the other hand have the mental capacity to weigh up the odds, think about alternatives and the potential outcomes. The problem is, with so much to take into consideration, we simply don’t have the time to do all the calculations.
Emotions are perhaps our body’s way of short-circuiting this process. Our mind is processing information all of the time about our environment and expresses how it feels about something in an emotional sense. Our emotions are a rough average of what our mind thinks about a situation. If we don’t have time, go with our emotions. If we have plenty of time then we can have a good think about it.
Our emotions will have got us out of many a scrape over the ages.