Are you ever plagued by bad thoughts? Maybe you feel guilty about the fib you told to get out of going out after work. Or maybe you weren’t totally honest with your spouse about when your meeting really ended. Bad thoughts, it appears, have a good reason.
The Evolutionary Value of Bad Thoughts
Researchers from San Francisco State University studied the role of the outside environment on thoughts. They found that unintentional thoughts come unabated when participants were shown images of common objects.
Despite being told not to subvocalize (speak in the mind) about the objects they saw, they couldn’t help themselves. You can try this yourself. Take a walk outside and look around. You’ve identified the objects around you and have subvocalized what they were almost instantaneously.
There is an adaptive advantage to this act. Sometimes, you don’t have time to consider. Instant identification helps you act in an uncertain environment. But what about unwanted bad thoughts?
Thoughts and Behavior
There may be times you don’t want to think about some things. You don’t want to remember what an ass you were the last time you lost your temper at work. You feel guilty about it—and you can’t get it out of your head.
Ezequiel Morsella, associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study, explains that there is a reason for this. Your guilt is your brain’s way of changing future behavior. You learn from your mistakes and hopefully avoid another guilt trip.
In this sense, it is an adaptive mechanism. Getting along with your co-workers is the better course of action rather than being known as a hothead. It helps improve your work situation, and if we take this further, your job security and financial security.
Bad Thoughts in Your Writing
This information can be useful in your writing. Guilt is a powerful emotion. Understanding the motivation behind it can help you understand your characters better and lend some realism to your villains.
Unless he is completely evil, you have an angle on nuances of his behavior in light of his guilt. It can open up new scenes and confrontations from the guilt perpetuated by his unintentional bad thoughts. That can morph into anger and more interest in your work. It’s an intriguing insight into human behavior.