The Associative Function of Emotions

Associative Function of Emotions

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that emotions function associatively in the mind?  Whatever we face in the present moment, our emotional system wants to know whether we have any similar memory — anything that might resemble the present situation — stored away in its repertoire. Emotions attract like emotions and associate them together in our minds.  There is no prolonged investigation of whether the association of any two experiences are really parallel. Careful investigation comes later when rational investigative thoughts examine the message. Finding the connections between feelings and happenings is a fast way of seeing their patterns and making sense of them. So, is this associative function of emotions a good thing or a bad thing?

The Job Description of Our Emotions’ Associative Function

We gather associations in less than the blink of an eye.  And our emotions respond immediately to comply with their job description: give an appropriate emotional response to all stimuli. The full text reads: Notify us instantly of anything that may have an association with what we feel or anything that could cause us concern or stimulate our sensitivities.  And prepare the system for action, whatever that may be.

We produce emotions such as fear and love only after a fast scanning of any associative material. Whatever the associations with love or fear are in our memory banks, our emotional mind finds the appropriate response in the appropriate degree and generates it. This is one example of how our past influences our present regardless of our temperament. For the SJ, the past is scanned first for facts and results.  Secondarily there is a search for emotive content.  But for the Fs among the SPs, SJs, and NFs, the residual meanings from all their emotional experiences in the past are especially significant and the reaction to them is strong.

Quantity and Degree Affect Associative Function

Often, an emotion-packed memory is associated with several others and the response is then more potent. All the relevant associative material (both negative and positive) that we have stored in our memories colors the response.  So, we can be surprised by how we feel and act at times when this kaleidoscope of emotional material suddenly creates new feelings.

First impressions can be right or wrong because our emotional mind reads all likely associations. But the important thing to our emotional mind is to err on the side of safety and protection in the case of danger, and to our values and beliefs in all other cases. It is better to run from a tiger and find out later that it wasn’t necessary than to become the tiger’s meal. Quick association of all relevant material in assessing potential danger is the best policy. This response to danger is the same one I use when for the first time, I see the person of my dreams across the room and somehow know this is the person I will marry.

Associative Function Embeds Feelings Into Our Memory

Do you want never to forget those wonderful moments packed with intense feeling? Don’t worry.  They have been filed safely away and will return to thrill you again — maybe in another setting by association with a similar emotion. Powerful experiences never really die. We can rewrite their meaning in our minds but not really eradicate them. Things such as PTSD, abuse, and ecstasy are embedded in the emotional registry too.

Creativity and Healing Are Aided by the Associative Function of Our Emotions

Association is a key word in our emotional system. It is no oddity that association also energizes creativity. Not only is it a fast way to arrive at new insights, but it plays a large role in helping us heal once we have decided to give up our hurt.  It helps by using all our past associations of healing experiences. The emotional mind is our great “search engine” for like feelings.


Intelligently Emotional Book CoverMy hope is that this book will lead you, as its content has led many others, to be intelligently emotional. If it helps you to develop the intelligent use of your emotions and a rewarding lifestyle, my labor will not have been in vain.  You can access it HERE.  If you are subscribed to our weekly updates, our next issue will provide a link to purchase it with a 15% discount and free shipping.





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