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Theories of Emotion: James-Lange, Cannon-Bard, Two-Factor & Facial Feedback Hypothesis

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  • 0:50 James-Lange Theory
  • 2:56 Cannon-Bard Theory
  • 4:00 Two-Factor Theory
  • 5:10 Two-Factor Model Experiment
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ellie Green

Ellie holds a B.A. with Honors in English from Stanford University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Princeton University.

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. 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.

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