How Does Emotion Affect Cognition?

Reviewed on 7/15/2021

Your emotions play a definite role in your cognition. Emotion affects cognition because the regions of the brain are interlinked and influence our behavior and actions.
Your emotions play a definite role in your cognition. Emotion affects cognition because the regions of the brain are interlinked and influence our behavior and actions.

Your emotions play a definite role in your cognition. It was once believed that cognition and emotion are controlled by two different regions of the brain; however, recent research suggests that the two regions are interlinked and influence our behavior and actions.

Let us look at some examples.

  • A memory associated with strong emotion is often permanently etched in our minds. For example, a woman who was very close to her dad (emotions) may subconsciously choose a life partner (cognitive decision) who shares many common traits with her father. Thus, her childhood memories may influence her decision-making and dictate her social behavior.
  • Emotions facilitate the encoding of memories and help retrieve information in the future. For example, if you were bitten by a dog in your childhood, many years later, you still live in mortal fear of dogs and give a wide berth to every dog you see.
  • Any memory associated with a strong emotional stimulus appears to be remembered vividly, with great resilience over time.

Negative effect of emotions on cognition: Some emotions may get in the way of logical thinking, for example, rage, shock and panic. You are enraged that your favorite car is damaged during a road traffic accident. It is extremely difficult for you to think clearly about the next course of action. You are better off avoiding any action until your rage subsides. Any rash action such as attacking the offender may land you in trouble.

Positive effect of emotions on cognition: Emotion-laden states may help with critical thinking. Suppose you are the mother of a child. You have the best interests of your child at heart. You weigh relevant options and understand your child’s strengths, weaknesses and needs for both autonomy and safety. Your concern and love for them—is not an impediment to clear thinking—is essential to being a good parent. Love is a large part of what motivates you, grounds you and helps you do what you think is best for your child. These emotions of motherhood are often a reason behind good parenting decisions.

Which part of the brain controls emotions and cognition?

Emotions are controlled by the subcortical regions of the brain such as the amygdala, ventral striatum and hypothalamus. Most scientists think that emotions are innate (they are programmed in our brains since birth).

Cognition is an acquired process that develops through past experiences, thoughts and senses. It includes processes such as attention, sensations and perception along with language use, memory, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, decision-making and intelligence. The frontal lobe, parietal lobe and prefrontal cortex are mainly involved in cognitive and problem-solving abilities.

Extensive interconnections between the regions of the brain control emotions and cognition. Thus, your emotions may drive your decisions and your past experiences may affect your emotional health.

If you were bitten by a spider as a child, you have a mortal fear of spiders (emotion). As an adult, when you see a spider climbing your wall, your first instinct is to either squash it or run away to another room. This is because your brain processes the input and retrieves old memories. These memories (information) are then used to guide your present behavior (cognition).

What is an emotional quotient?

Numerous studies have established that emotions such as anger, frustration, boredom and anxiety often negatively affect your problem-solving abilities, creativity, reasoning and attention span. Consistently inculcating positive emotions in your life such as gratitude, love, content, joy and hope is associated with good decision-making in professional and personal life. Additionally, positive emotions are linked to good emotional and mental health. Scientists often use the term emotional intelligence (emotional quotient [EQ]) for a person’s ability to manage their own emotions positively and communicate effectively with others. A person with a high EQ is better equipped to make right decisions in their personal life and workplace. They can empathize with others, diffuse conflict, manage stressful situations better and build stronger relationships at school and work. In short, a person with a high EQ can respond to emotional inputs positively and make better cognitive decisions.

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References
S. Hussain Ather: "The Link Between Cognition and Emotion." https://hussainather.com/2019/10/05/the-link-between-cognition-and-emotion/

Robotics ON: "Critical Thinking and Emotions." https://roboticson.eu/lesson/critical-thinking-and-emotions/

Frontiers in Psychology: "The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory." https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01454/full

HelpGuide: "Improving Emotional Intelligence (EQ)." https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/emotional-intelligence-eq.htm

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