12 Things to Know

By Randolph M. Nesse
Natural selection shaped capacities for emotions to adjust many aspects of organisms to cope with the challenges of situations that have recurred over evolutionary time. Understanding the origins and utility of normal emotions is essential for understanding and treating emotional disorders. They are not simply innate responses to cues, they are sophisticated special states aroused by the situations that arise as organisms pursue their idiosyncratic goals.

Emotions are useful states shaped by natural selection.
No one aspect of emotions is primary, feeling, physiology and behavior all interact.
Emotions are distinguished not by having different functions, but by being useful in different situations.
Different emotions were differentiated from more generic precursors to cope with specific kinds of situations.
The situations that arise in goal pursuit have shaped specific emotions.
The challenges associated with recurring social situations have shaped special social emotions.
Emotions are positive or negative because they can be useful only in situations with opportunities or threats.
Negative emotions are just as useful as positive emotions.
Negative emotions seem abnormal because of the “clinician’s illusion.”
The “smoke detector principle” explains why unnecessary instances of negative emotion are so common.
Major individual differences in emotional tendencies don’t much influence fitness.
Most mental disorders are emotional disorders.