Ask a Psychologist: Is Yoda’s Advice Any Good?


(Image: Lucasfilm)

Dr. Nakia Gordon is a professor of psychology at Marquette University in Wisconsin. She’s a scholar on the human use of emotions. Science writer Kyle Hill asked her to reflect on the psychological utility of Jedi Master Yoda’s pearls of wisdom:

“Anger… fear… aggression. The dark side are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.”

“Anger, fear and aggression in the right circumstances are indeed easy to evoke. But they aid in survival. Without them, we die. So they are not useless. I think if Yoda had said revenge or other nuanced emotions that rely on complex cognitions, then perhaps his advice is warranted. Rumination is almost always unhealthy (contributing to the maintenance of both depression and PTSD) and it seems to me you need to ruminate in order to plot revenge. You would also need to ruminate to maintain any anger associated with the situation. But that anger would presumably aid you in the confrontation.”

[Is the Dark Side stronger?] “No… no… no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”

“This one is interesting. Basic emotions of which anger and fear are a part of can be evoked readily. The question is whether there are easily evoked positive emotions too. People’s list of basic emotions usually includes at least one positive emotion. But that positive one is not as easily defined. Sometimes it is enjoyment, sometimes it is joy, sometimes happiness. In theory, any basic emotion should be quickly and easily evoked, but a basic positive one is elusive for researchers. Perhaps the negative emotions are as seductive to researchers as they are to Jedis.

Dr. Gordon also wrote about her general impressions of the Jedi approach to emotion:

Yoda often seems to be asking for the Jedi to be in the present. In the long-term, practicing something like “mindfulness meditation” does appear to have many beneficial health effects. Mindfulness would, in theory, keep Jedi from ruminating on anger.

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