Cognition Affects Emotion, but Does Emotion Affect Cognition?

That was the question at the center of a recent study led by David Berle of the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Building on the theory at the heart of most cognitive behavioral therapies, Berle took the “feelings vs. facts” idea to a new level.

A core tenet of many cognitive therapies is to help clients realize that their beliefs may be distorted because they are based on feelings and not facts. In other words, clients shouldn’t form all their beliefs on emotions, but rather should analyze situations and consider relevant facts before forming a cognitive belief. Berle chose to turn that around and explore whether people with high levels of emotional reasoning experience more psychological problems as a result.

For his study, Berle enlisted 42 participants with high dysphoric moods and 28 with low dysphoric moods to determine how emotional reasoning affected depressive symptoms. He also considered anxiety and how phobia and panic was related to emotional reasoning.

Berle conducted two separate experiments and found that the majority of the participants relied on emotional reasoning to complete the tasks at hand, even those with no history of dysphoria, depression, or anxiety. However, when Berle looked at self-relevant emotional reasoning, he found that increases in this type of reasoning were directly related to higher depressive symptoms.

Interestingly, contrary to other data related to anxiety and emotional reasoning, Berle did not find that people with panic or phobia engaged in more emotional reasoning than participants without anxiety. This finding adds support to the theory that emotional reasoning may not be a byproduct of anxiety, but instead, may provide a greater awareness for individuals and thus result in a greater emphasis on the emotions they experience. “In summary, our two studies suggest that there may be small-sized associations between emotional reasoning and depressive symptoms,” said Berle. “This association appears to be independent of anxiety symptoms.”

Berle, D., Moulds, M.L. (2013). Emotional reasoning processes and dysphoric mood: Cross-sectional and prospective relationships. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67359. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067359

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  • Janet

    July 11th, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    I agree with the conclusion here.lack of anxiety does not mean emotional emphasis is only means better control.i believe some people are hard wired to be anxious and only through great practice can they overcome that.

  • Carolee

    July 12th, 2013 at 5:01 AM

    This is great to hear. My boyfriend is always telling me to get my emmotions in line, that they are causing my thinking to be all out of whack. He’s wrong, I see- I kind of like that sometimes!

  • Olivia carson

    July 13th, 2013 at 4:56 AM

    I am such an emotional person that it’s difficult for me to take that kind of emotion out of many life decisions that I have to make. I rather like this about myself though. I don’t think that because of this anyone could ever accuse me of being heartless, because 9 times out of 10 I am always going to go with my heart when coming to some sort of decision, and not my head. Of course that can get me into trouble too! ;)

  • Ramon.T

    July 13th, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    Come to think of it – most of us are hard wired to think based on emotions. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. It makes us what we are. It separates us from machines. And that is the human essence that we all carry. Losing it in the pursuit of being ‘perfect’ is not something I would personally like to do.

  • Cj

    July 15th, 2013 at 4:28 AM


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