MCAT Content / Emotion / Adaptive Role Of Emotion

Adaptive Role of Emotion

Topic: Emotion

Emotion is adaptive, meaning that it promotes the organism’s ability to thrive.

The universality of emotion is adaptive in that it allows interpersonal communication, including cross-cultural communication. Facial expressions conveying each of the basic emotions are distinct and universal, so a smile communicates happiness regardless of the individual or culture. Another example is that an angry facial expression, in combination with body language, can serve as a warning sign that someone is about to commit an aggressive act. In addition, emotion helps to guide behaviors that promote safety. When people experience fear, they find a way to escape or lessen the fear-inducing stimulus. These are evolved, adaptive behaviors, inspired by emotional experience.

Emotion can determine an individuals performance in learning. Theories of learning assert that there is an optimal level of arousal (stress) that we all try to maintain.  If we are under-aroused, we become bored and will seek out some sort of stimulation.  On the other hand, if we are over-aroused, we will engage in behaviors to reduce our arousal/stress. The Yerkes–Dodson law is an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point.  When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases.  The process is often illustrated graphically as a bell-shaped curve which increases and then decreases with higher levels of arousal.


Key Points

• Emotion is adaptive, meaning that it promotes the organism’s ability to thrive.

• Emotion is adaptive in that it allows interpersonal communication, including cross-cultural communication.

• Emotion helps to guide behaviors that promote safety.

• When people experience fear, they find a way to escape or lessen the fear-inducing stimulus. These are evolved, adaptive behaviors, inspired by emotional experience.


Key Terms

adaptive: having an ability to change to suit different conditions

emotion: a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others

Yerkes–Dodson law: a theory that makes a link between arousal and performance



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