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Theories of Emotion--Understanding our own Emotional Experience

James-Lange Theory

William James and, at about the same time, Carle Lange argued that emotion is the result of our recognizing the particular pattern of physiological arousal caused by a certain stimulus

Physiological arousal differs for each emotio

People distinguish among the different patterns, perceive the stimulus, and identify their emotions from these differences

Criticisms (mainly from Cannon):

Observation suggests that identification of an emotion occurs almost instantaneously; it would seem that ANS arousal occurs too slowly for people to be able to use this information to identify emotion

If ANS arousal is produced through chemical means or by exercise, person doesn't feel a particular emotion

ANS arousal does not differ for each emotion; it's the same for all emotions: BP, HR, respiration, perspiration, shaking all increase

Researchers concentrated on testing Cannon's third criticism--that ANS arousal does not differ for individual emotions


They found that there are minute differences in ANS arousal depending on the emotion:

Positive and negative emotions can be distinguished by how much the HR goes up: Heart rate increases more for negative emotions

Within the group of negative emotions, skin temperature is higher for anger than for fear or sadness

Anger leads to increased blood flow in the hands and feet; fear results in less blood flow to these locations

In addition, there is evidence from people who have had their adrenal glands removed or who are taking drugs that suppress ANS arousal that they feel emotion less intensely

Cannon-Bard Theory

In contrast to James and Lange, Walter Cannon and Philip Bard argued that one's emotional experience is a result of simultaneous identification of the emotion from sensory information coming from the thalamus and the activation of physiological responses


Cannon and Bard argued that the thalamus played a central role in emotion, but the research evidence is in contradiction to this


There may a seat of emotion similar to what Canon and Bard proposed--an area that controls all aspects of an emotional experience--the locus coeruleus which is located in the brain stem

People with spinal cord injuries report experiencing emotions despite not having feedback from their bodies regarding ANS arousal

Schachter-Singer or Two-Factor Theory

Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer added a new ingredient to their theory of emotional experience--cognitive appraisal

They argued that when one perceives a stimulus, the physiological responses are activated

Then the individual uses his or her information about the situation and the physiological responses to attach a cognitive label to the experience

This label and the physiological responses are then integrated to create one's emotional experience

The implication of Schachter and Singer's theory is that one may identify his or her emotional experience quite differently depending on what aspects of the situation to which he or she is attending


Schachter and Singer (1962) injected epinephrine, which causes ANS arousal, into their human subjects

Some subjects were told the injection would cause euphoria and, while they waited for the injection to work, they sat with a confederate who acted euphoric
Others were told the injection would cause anger and waited with a confederate who acted angry

All subjects were then given a questionnaire that asked how they felt

Euphoric subjects responded more positively on the questionnaire; angry subjects responded more negatively

The same type of study was done with exercise (which also causes ANS arousal)

Subjects were provoked to anger after exercise or before exercise
Those who were provoked after exercise were more aggressive in their behavior


Some studies of Schachter's have not been replicated by other researchers who have attempted the drug study


Just like the different theories of motivation, the theories of emotion are limited and focus on different aspects of the emotional experience

From the evidence that we have, the following are elements of emotional experience

Sensation and perception of the situation or stimulus

Cognitive appraisal of situation or stimulus

Activation of the autonomic nervous system, especially the sympathetic nervous system

Perception and consciousness of physiological responses

Cognitive appraisal of the physiological responses