How Emotion Shapes Behavior: Feedback, Anticipation, and Reflection, Rather Than Direct Causation

Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs, C. Nathan DeWall, Liqing Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1137 Scopus citations


Fear causes fleeing and thereby saves lives: this exemplifies a popular and common sense but increasingly untenable view that the direct causation of behavior is the primary function of emotion. Instead, the authors develop a theory of emotion as a feedback system whose influence on behavior is typically indirect. By providing feedback and stimulating retrospective appraisal of actions, conscious emotional states can promote learning and alter guidelines for future behavior. Behavior may also be chosen to pursue (or avoid) anticipated emotional outcomes. Rapid, automatic affective responses, in contrast to the full-blown conscious emotions, may inform cognition and behavioral choice and thereby help guide current behavior. The automatic affective responses may also remind the person of past emotional outcomes and provide useful guides as to what emotional outcomes may be anticipated in the present. To justify replacing the direct causation model with the feedback model, the authors review a large body of empirical findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-203
Number of pages37
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Automatic/implicit processes
  • Emotion
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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