Schachter's Two Factor Theory of Emotion

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  • 0:00 Emotion as Experience
  • 0:46 The Two Factor Theory…
  • 1:52 The Theory at Work
  • 2:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

In this lesson, we will discuss Stanley Schachter's two-factor theory of emotion. When you've finished the lesson, you'll also have the chance to test your own knowledge of the two-factor theory of emotion with a short quiz.

Emotion as Experience

While driving down a dark road on her way home from an evening basketball game, Lila sees another car coming toward her from the opposite direction. Suddenly, the car swerves into her lane, and for a few terrifying minutes, it looks like both vehicles are about to be involved in a head-on collision.

Lila's palms begin to sweat and her heart starts pounding. She knows that she will be seriously hurt if the two cars collide. Lila begins to feel intense fear. At the last minute, the oncoming car swerves back into its lane and narrowly avoids hitting Lila. So how can we explain what Lila just experienced emotionally? One way is to look at Schachter's two-factor theory of emotion.

Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

The two-factor theory of emotion was developed by Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer in the 1960's; it is also referred to as the Schachter-Singer Theory. According to Schachter and Singer, our emotions are the product of both physical arousal and our thoughts, the result of a biological and cognitive process.

According to the theory, when we're exposed to a stimulating event, we find a way to understand what we've just experienced. For example, we look for cues in our environment and our past experiences to help us cognitively label the physiological arousal. Inevitably, the stimulating event leads to some type of physical symptoms, such as sweating, increased heart rate, heavy breathing, and other related symptoms. Only after these thoughts and symptoms occur do we experience a specific emotion.

It is important to note that our physiological arousal may be the same for several different emotions, which is why cognitive labels are so important. Arousal itself isn't enough; it is also necessary for us to identify the arousal.

The Theory at Work

Let's take another look at Lila's near accident on the dark road. The sight of the oncoming car veering into her lane is the stimulating event. Once Lila processes the event, her heart begins to pound faster and harder and she starts to sweat. As her sweaty palms grip the steering wheel of her car, Lila labels her physiological response, as 'I am afraid.' As a result, Lila experiences the emotion of fear.

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