How Emotions Affect Behavior

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  • 0:01 Behavior
  • 1:20 Emotions & Motivation
  • 3:05 Emotions & Agression
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

The way we act is often influenced by the way we feel. But how, exactly, do emotions and behavior work together? In this lesson, we'll explore how emotions affect behavior, looking at the specific examples of motivation and aggression.


Teddy is frustrated. He feels like his emotions go up and down. One minute he's very happy, but then something happens that makes him angry or frustrated. He's noticed that the way he feels influences the way he acts. Sometimes when he's frustrated, he says and does things to his parents that he's not proud of.

Our behavior is what we do and how we act. This could include physical things, like running and jumping, verbal behavior, like saying things we regret later, or complicated behaviors like cheating on a test or planning a party. Behaviors are different from thoughts and emotions because they are about what we do in the world. In contrast, thoughts and emotions are inside of us and we don't have to act on our thoughts and emotions. For example, Teddy might feel impatient with a kid at school who is not very bright, but he can bite his tongue and not make a mean comment.

Despite being different from emotions, though, behaviors are very strongly influenced by them. There are many ways that emotions affect behavior. Take Teddy, when he feels frustrated, he sometimes acts on that frustration by saying mean things to his parents. To help Teddy understand the relationship between behavior and emotions, let's look at two of the many ways that emotions can influence our behavior, through motivation and aggression.

Emotions & Motivation

Teddy feels like he has a lot of responsibility. He's supposed to keep his room clean, study for his classes and practice piano, among all of the other things he does. That's a lot and sometimes he just doesn't feel like doing what he's supposed to do. A person's motivation drives a person's behavior. For example, Teddy is supposed to study for his classes. Sometimes he's really motivated and doesn't have any problem studying. But other times he's not very motivated and doesn't study at all.

Motivation and emotion are very closely linked. Emotions like frustration and boredom can lower motivation and, thus, lower the chance that we will act. Take Teddy's piano practice. If his teacher is too demanding or the piece he's practicing is too hard, he will feel frustrated and will not feel motivation to practice. As a result, he might skip practice.The same is true if the piece he's practicing is too easy. He'll get bored and lose his motivation. On the other hand, interest and enthusiasm are two emotions that can increase motivation, which increases the chance that we will act. For example, if Teddy is supposed to practice a piano piece that he really likes or he's enthusiastic about playing, he'll be more likely to be motivated and, therefore, more likely to practice his piano.

There are many emotions that influence motivation and, as we've seen, motivation itself can change our behavior. In this way, if we can change our emotions, we might be able to change our behavior. For example, if Teddy is feeling frustrated because the song he's supposed to practice is too hard, he might want to take a short break and play something that he knows and loves. That could calm him down and make him feel less frustrated. As a result, his motivation could go up and he could feel better about returning to the hard piece.

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