What is the Role of Emotions in Personality Development?



Emotions are important because they make it possible for people toexpress their feelings through their actions. Emotions are integralto personality development as is discussed in this research paper.They influence the actions people make, because behavior is motivatedby feelings. Emotions influence thought. Specific situations triggeremotional reactions that affect people’s attitudes and behavior.Last, emotions trigger certain personalities.

Emotions act as a fundamental aspect of human functioning. They arespontaneous and occur when people react to different kinds ofstimuli. These include positive and negative feelings, like sadness,joy, anger, desire, surprise and distress among others. As a result,emotions affect how people behave or their attitudes. Every personhas a unique way of perceiving the things that happen in their life,which explains why some people can be described as emotional, whileothers are unemotional. In the following discussion, the paperexplores the role of emotions in personality development.

Role of Emotions in Personality Development

Influence Actions

Emotions are important in personality development, since they act asthe main influencing factor for all actions that individuals make.People are able to express their feelings through actions, and beginto experience emotions from the moment they are born, and as onegrows, he or she develops an enhanced understanding of the emotions.Since it is impossible to do away with feelings, like guilt,happiness and shame among others, they influence the development ofour behaviors and attitudes. For instance, if one loses close familymembers at an early age, he or she becomes sad. The sadness affectstheir personality development in that the individual may tend tobehave remorsefully. In this case, the behavior is influenced by theemotions developed after losing close relatives. A differentillustration is when an individual experiences an angry emotion, heor she is likely to develop an aggressive behavior. This is becausethe emotion shapes how the individual feels and reacts to theenvironment, or relates with other people.

The emotions that people experience daily, and their ability to dealwith them, are the fundamental elements of personality development.Emotions make it possible to comprehend and foretell individualdisparities in thinking, feeling and behavior (Abe, 2014). Theydirect interest and consequently orient individuals to and away fromseveral environmental stimuli. Individual disparities in the tendencyto experience particular emotions, does not just have an impact onthe psychological as well as biological reactivity of the individualfor a short period, but has a conscious influence on preferredbehaviors to which individuals are attracted. Thus, personalitydevelops depending on the reactions to the emotional conditions towhich people are exposed on a daily basis. This is perfectlyexplained using the differential emotions theory (DET), which arguesthat emotions act as the basic motivators of how humans behave.

According to DET, there are ten essential emotions, guilt, surprise,fear, interest, contempt, enjoyment, shyness, anger, sadness anddisgust (Abe, 2014). Each has its unique neuromotor program as wellas mode of being expressed thus, the emotions motivate differenttypes of personality. The theory further argues that emotions areregarded as the building blocks of personality development (Abe,2014). Life events trigger many emotions, and when this happens,behavior is also affected. As a result, personality develops asindividuals connect their emotional systems with their environment.According to DET, when emotions combine, they are likely to result inwanted or unwanted personalities (Abe, 2014). For instance, researchconducted on 10 to 11 year olds, depicted that anger, sadness, shameand self-directed hostility resulted in depressive behaviors. Thestudy supports the role of emotions in influencing the development ofunwanted personalities.

Emotions Influence Thought

Emotions control how people think about themselves hence, theydetermine whether individuals develop positive or negativepersonalities. When individuals encounter unusual situations in life,their thinking is affected by the emotions that develop as a resultof the situation. Feelings interrupt normal thinking process, aspeople tend to focus on the events that ensued, resulting inoptimistic or unhelpful emotions. Valiente, Swanson and Eisenberg(2012) conduct a study, aimed at demonstrating how emotions arelikely to have a negative or positive impact on student’spersonality, and in turn affect academic success. The authorsconcluded that negative emotions, such as anger, cause a decline inachievement mainly because they have a negative impact on “higherorder cognitive processes, such as problem solving, memory andstrategic thinking, and focus attention on a narrow set of behavioraloptions” (Valiente, Swanson &amp Eisenberg, 2012). This is becauseemotions might interrupt the ability of learners to rememberimportant information.

Individuals who experience negative emotions are unable to use theirhigher order cognitive procedures, as their emotional reactions failto instigate problem solving. For example, when a student is angry,he or she tends to focus on the emotion, by recalling the situationsthat may have occurred resulting in a feeling of rage. In theprocess, attention is diverted from studying, and the emotion impedeswith the student’s development of interest in learning resulting inacademic failure. On the other hand, positive emotions boostcognitive processing, which leads to positive personality traits likeaccomplishment. Valiente, Swanson and Eisenberg (2012) explain thatemotions, like happiness, widen an individual’s cognitive awarenessas well as consciousness on possible solutions to challenges. Theresearch conducted by Valiente, Swanson and Eisenberg (2012)illustrates that cognitive processes are closely linked to emotions,and that negative feelings are highly likely to result in thedevelopment of negative personality characteristics that lead tofailure and vice versa.

Emotions Trigger Certain Behaviors

Another role of emotions in personality development is based on thefindings that “emotions serve an adaptive coordination role,triggering a set of responses that enable individuals to deal quicklywith encountered problems or opportunities” (Keltner, Oatley &ampJenkins 2014). For instance, when an individual is angered by anotherperson, he or she reacts quickly by possibly fighting. The readinessto fight is not only physical, but is an indication of aphysiological trait. This is because, anger is linked with the neuralactivation traits of approach motivation, as well as alterations inperipheral physiology, which prepares one to become aggressive. Thisimplies that specific emotions are linked to particular behaviors.Like people who have a tendency to get angry are mostly likely tobehave with hostility. On the contrary, people who are happy exhibitbehaviors like being friendly.

This is illustrated in a study by Lerner, Li and Weber (2013), whichaimed at testing the impact of sadness on implicit objectives, likeenhancing impatience when making financial decisions. The researchersconcluded that sadness resulted in negative decisions as compared toparticipants who had a neutral state of emotions. The sadparticipants made decisions in a rush due to their increased level ofimpatience. The study indicates that the negative emotion predicts anegative personality hence, a sad person is likely to be impatient.This applies to all human beings, because everybody experiencesemotions that affect their attitudes either positively or negativelyand compel them to act in a certain way.

Emotions make it possible to differentiate the personalities ofpeople. We have unique personalities. It is impossible for two peopleto behave in the same way. This is because personality sets anindividual apart from the crowd. It ensures that one is able to beidentified for who they are and due to their behaviors. For instance,two people may be confronted by a situation that evokes feelings ofanger. One of the individual may decide to react by fighting, whilethe other may withdraw from the situation to avoid any confrontation.Despite sharing the same emotions, the characters do not share thesame personalities. One is aggressive, while the other is composed.The same case applies when the shared emotion is positive. Like thereare people who cry when happy, while others do not show any emotions.The first group of individuals has an expressive personality, whilethe latter is not.


Emotions refer to the feelings we experience depending on a specificstate of affairs. There are many types of emotions, both negative andpositive. The feelings we experience on a daily basis, and ourability to handle them results in personality development. Hence,emotions are significant in how our personalities develop. Theyinfluence actions because people react based on the emotions theyexperience. They influence thought as people’s behaviors arecontrolled by their own perceptions. Negative emotions result innegative perceptions, which in turn lead to unwanted personalities.In addition, emotions trigger specific behaviors, which make peopleunique. The way individuals react to emotions differ from one personto another hence, resulting in differences in behaviors caused byemotions.


Abe, J. A. A. (2014). Differential emotions theory as a theory ofpersonality development. Emotion Review 7(2), 126-130.

Keltner, D., Oatley, K., &amp Jenkins, J. M. (2014). Understandingemotions. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Lerner, J. S., Li, Y., &amp Weber, E. U. (2013). The financial costsof sadness. Psychological Science 24, 72-79.

Valiente, C., Swanson, J., &amp Eisenberg, N. (2012). Linkingstudents’ emotions and academic achievement: When and why emotionsmatter. Child Development Perspective 6(2), 129-135.