Emotional reasoning: Feelings are not Facts


By Aditya Shukla, Psychologist and founder (Cognition Today)


People sometimes believe their feelings about something or someone accurately describe reality. This is an error in cognition called "Emotional Reasoning"


Assessing reality requires a lot of mental work. But feelings are primitive and immediate. So people use "feelings" as a quick reference to interpret reality.

"I'm so anxious on this dinner date, it must be my partner thinks I'm ugly."

Here, the feeling of anxiety is considered a fact, and then you conclude why it must be true with a superficial reason that you are ugly.


"I'm really excited about this new career path, so it's definitely the right choice for me."

Your excitement doesn't prove that the career is right, it is just the excitement and motivation of starting something you like.


"I'm really angry about this policy proposal, so it must be a terrible idea."

Your strong negative emotions are not sufficient to judge the quality of a policy, without critically evaluating its potential benefits or drawbacks.


Emotional reasoning

Feeling = Fact

Rational reasoning

Feeling =/= Fact

When you have a feeling, introspect and ask yourself: How many different reasons can I think of for me to feel this way? Is my conclusion accurate or just one of the many possibilities?

Why do we reason emotionally?


We have limited thinking resources, so we default to using emotions because they are easy and already in process.


Emotions are created to motivate a behavior like running away, seeking safety, approaching someone with safety, etc., so emotions trigger behaviors before we get to analyze.


Emotions create sensations all over the brain and body, so it literally feels "real" while cognition doesn't feel as real when we are emotional.

Why reduce emotional reasoning


So we don't start a conflict for no reason.


So we diffuse a relationship conflict quickly.


So we arrive at good decisions, typically after the emotions have passed.