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How Emotion is Processed

Module by: Mark Pettinelli. E-mail the author

Summary: For many reasons, positive things are processed better than negative ones.

The idea that the mind processes positive things better than neutral and negative ones is not new. However, this idea is much more significant, and it applies in many more circumstances than it would be assumed from just this singular idea alone. For instance, this idea could mean that people are simply more open to positive, happier emotions than negative ones. That things which cause pleasure are better and clearer understood than something which is painful. However, something painful may cause you to become more awake, and this in turn would lead you to process information better. This information itself might be pleasurable, even though the original stimulus was painful. If the stimulus is negative, you would still process it better because of the original negative stimulus which “woke” you up. There are examples of negative things which cause people to pay attention, something like spanking, any loud noise (scratching a fingernail on a chalkboard for one), or even a painful emotional experience could cause you to take life more seriously temporarily, and this might cause you to be more awake, active, or intellectual. However, those negative things just make someone better able to receive or understand positive stimulus more so than negative, because someone is still probably going to ignore negative information more than positive information, even though they are in a more alert state. Negative things are ignored because, simply, people tend to believe what they want to believe. It is almost as if for every emotion someone says, “do I want that?” and if the answer is yes, they are much more responsive to it. So someone might ignore someone they don’t like, and pay attention to someone they do. Or, if someone doesn’t like someone, then that person doesn’t cause as much pleasure because the other person has decided to ignore them. It is pre-conceived notions and conceptions of the person, or even an understanding of who that person is, that determines what emotions that person causes. It is like real facts about that person are being stored unconsciously, and then those facts are brought up in the future to determine how much pleasure that person is going to cause. This ties into the idea that positive things are processed better than negative ones because if something is positive, or if you “think” something is positive (which might mean having preconceived notions about someone) then that person is going to generate less pleasure for you because you think they are not positive. What then is the difference between thinking if they are positive and them actually being positive? The difference is at some level (unconsciously) you are thinking that they are positive, you just might not be consciously aware that you are thinking those things. You probably also don’t have control over those thoughts. Conscious awareness of as much of what is going on unconsciously with those thoughts will enable someone to understand what is going on, and possibly change what those thoughts are.

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