Data versus Spock: lay theories about whether emotion helps or hinders

Cogn Emot. 2018 May;32(3):549-565. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2017.1326374. Epub 2017 May 13.


The android Data from Star Trek admired human emotion whereas Spock viewed emotion as irrational and maladaptive. The theory that emotions fulfil adaptive functions is widely accepted in academic psychology but little is known about laypeople's theories. The present study assessed the extent to which laypeople share Data's view of emotion as helpful or Spock's view of emotion as a hindrance. We also assessed how help and hinder theory endorsement were related to reasoning, emotion regulation, and well-being. Undergraduates (N = 630) completed a stressful timed reasoning task and questionnaires that assessed their theories of emotion, emotion regulation strategies, happiness, and social support. Overall, participants viewed emotion more as a help than a hindrance. The more they endorsed the view that emotion helps, the better their reasoning scores. Endorsing a help theory also predicted the use of reappraisal which, in turn, predicted greater happiness and social support. In contrast, endorsing the view that emotion hinders was associated with emotion suppression and less social support. Thus, people's theories about the functionality of emotion may have important implications for their reasoning and emotional well-being.

Keywords: Emotion; adaptive; emotion regulation; lay theories; rationality.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Support
  • Students / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult