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Have you ever wondered how your emotions are related to your physical reactions? Does your heart beat fast because you’re excited, or are you excited because your heart is beating fast? Psychologists have taken a turn at figuring out how our physiological reactions are connected to emotions. Take a look at this lesson for more on the most important theories of emotion.

James-Lange Theory

Do you know how physiological characteristics, such as sweaty palms and racing hearts, factor into our experiences of emotion? Do emotions cause the symptoms, or vice-versa? Believe it or not, psychologists have been wondering about this since the nineteenth century, and over time, multiple theories have been developed about the role physiological arousal plays in emotion. Here, we’ll talk about three well-known theories. We’ll also note one additional hypothesis about relationships between facial muscles and emotion.In the late 19th century, William James (1842-1910), who is also known as the father of functionalist psychology, formulated one theory. Around the same time, albeit independently of James, a Danish psychologist named Carl Lange (1834-1900), developed a similar one. So today, we refer to this single theory using the names of both men.

Associating one theory with two names will be a trend common to all three theories of emotion. Anyway, this first one is known as the James-Lange theory of emotion. It proposes that physiological arousal precedes the experience of emotion.

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Let’s think about this for a second. For example, according to this theory, we don’t blush because we’re embarrassed; rather, we feel embarrassed because we blush. Do you agree with this idea?

Cannon-Bard Theory

Certainly, some psychologists have challenged it.In particular, Walter Cannon (1871-1945) and Philip Bard (1898-1977), proposed a different theory. Their Cannon-Bard theory of emotion suggests that we experience emotions at the same time as we experience physiological arousal; or, the emotion and the arousal are simultaneous. So, according to this, we blush and feel embarrassed at the same time.

Does this make sense to you?

Two-Factor Theory

Maybe, but it cannot explain every instance. For example, sometimes the same physiological symptoms can be involved with very different emotions. To use the example of a racing heart, sometimes that happens when I’m scared, but sometimes that happens when I’m in love. So, in 1962, two more psychologists, Stanley Schachter (1922-97) and Jerome Singer, proposed yet another theory. They believed that when we experience physiological arousal, we cognitively process the context in which we find ourselves before feeling the proper emotion. Their theory is sometimes called the two-factor theory of emotion. This isn’t because two men helped to develop it, but because this theory maintains that the experience of emotion depends on two factors: physiological arousal and cognitive processing.

Now, the psychologist Richard Lazarus called this sort of cognitive processing appraisal, and he argued we could be either conscious or unconscious. Our appraisals are not always accurate. One well-known study determined that men who met an attractive female in a fear-arousing situation were more likely to feel attracted to her than men who met her in a situation that did not arouse fear. In other words, the men in the fear-arousing situation may have mistaken the arousal tied to their fear for arousal tied to attraction. Reasonably enough, this sort of inaccuracy is called misattribution of arousal.

Facial Feedback Hypothesis

Okay, so far we’ve talked about three theories of emotion. James and Lange believed that physiological arousal precedes the experience of emotion. Cannon and Bard believed the two happened simultaneously.

And the two-factor theory of emotion, which Schachter and Singer developed, maintains that cognitive processing of physiological arousal must occur before we experience emotions. Richard Lazarus noted this cognitive appraisal can happen unconsciously, and that we can misattribute arousal, or relate it to emotions inaccurately.One final interesting hypothesis about physiology and emotion is known as the Facial Feedback hypothesis, which proposes that the movement of facial muscles influences our emotional experiences. The hypothesis suggests that our brains use feedback from our facial muscles to recognize the emotions we are experiencing. Did you know that more than 40 muscles in the face can be involved with the expression of emotion? This hypothesis has a long history. In the late 19th century, Charles Darwin, the scientist who is most famous for his ideas about evolution, recognized that projecting our emotions on our faces can intensify our experience of that emotion, and that subduing those projections can diminish the emotion.

Darwin was suggesting that facial projections can change the intensity of already existing emotions. But do you think that facial feedback can actually generate emotions altogether? The leap from correlation to causality is tricky. But at least the correlation does seem to exist. For example, brain scans of women injected in the face with Botox, a drug that minimizes wrinkles by paralyzing facial muscles, have revealed decreased activity in areas of their brains that are associated with the processing of emotion.

Lesson Summary

All right.

Let’s recap what you’ve learned. The relationship between physiological arousal, or physical manifestations of an emotion, and the experience of that emotion itself has been explained differently at different points in history. Since the late 19th century, multiple theories have tried to explain it. The James-Lange theory proposes that physiological arousal precedes the experience of emotion, whereas the Cannon-Bard theory suggests arousal and emotion are simultaneous.

Finally, Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer recognized that cognitive interpretation must be factored into explanations of emotion. Their 2-factory theory suggests that arousal must be cognitively processed before we experience an emotion. Richard Lazarus called this cognitive interpretation appraisal.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the James-Lange, the Cannon-Bard and the two-factor theories of emotion
  • Describe the Facial Feedback Hypothesis
  • Define the terms appraisal and misattribution of arousal

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