Emotions and the non-verbal structuring of relationships
Keith Oatley, University of Toronto
For the most part, when we want to organize either a temporary relationship (Would you like a coffee this afternoon?) or a more permanent relationship (Will you marry me?), we think of the arrangements as being made verbally. Indeed people do make such arrangements verbally. Laurette Laroque and I have found from studying some 500 joint plans and arrangements that people have made, that short term relationships and plans generally work well, although mistakes do sometimes occur. But there are non-verbal aspects to the matter. To make a mutual plan or arrangement requires a particular emotional state-a mood of happiness or affection-to set the motivational context. This mood structures the relationship into a mode of cooperation. When errors do occur, this mood changes quickly into anxiety, or even more frequently, into anger. Jenny Jenkins and I have started to develop the idea that the most important functions of emotions generally are to set up, and sustain, certain kinds of relationships. Anger provides the outline script of conflict, anxiety the script for protection, and happiness or affection the script for cooperation. The emotion provides a (mainly) non-verbal outline script; the words elaborate the details of what joint goals are to be achieved, and what actions planned. I explore this framework in a setting of evolutionary psychology, and propose a theory of how emotions work in the accomplishment of interpersonal goals.