We experience various emotions daily, and it leads to a specific response. In the world of psychology, there are multiple theories of emotion. We shall explore them all here—even the famous 2 factor theory of emotion.
When one sits down and thinks of their day, a particular expression crosses their face. That expression relates to emotion. Our day, event, and situation affect our emotions immensely. Emotions are an integral part of our growth and what makes us human.
Emotions are part of our mundane life; anger, sadness, happiness, or disgust are just four of the countless emotions one can feel in a single day. Psychologists have spent their blood, sweat, and tears to understand this innate and natural human response.
Numerous theories have come to light, and many psychologists have tried to understand how emotions erupt. Psychologists have worked to present views and ideas to help us understand emotions. We need to acquire information about this term as it is something we experience daily.
If you genuinely want to understand emotions and the theories that explore them, you’ve come to the right place. We will dive deep into the meaning of emotions, the elements, and the theories of emotion. These theories include; the James-Lange theory, Cannon-Bard theory, Evolutionary theory by Darwin, and the 2 factor theory of emotion, among many others.
Disclaimer: Throughout this article, you will see one person disagree with another. So stay tuned and dive deep into a very elaborative study on emotions. Find out what theory states what and why they disagree with one another.
Table of Contents
What are emotions?
An emotion, in simple words, is a reaction to an experience or event that we humans cannot control. It is a natural response and cannot be premeditated. Our emotional reaction depends mainly on the occasion, experience, or trigger.
For instance, if you find out you have been promoted or have finally landed your dream job, your immediate emotional response would be happiness and joy. On the flip side, if you find out about the death of a loved one, you would experience sadness as a probable emotional response.
Emotions are a natural and integral part of human psychology. Every man or woman born into this world feels emotions, whether it is anger, sadness, or happiness. Emotions dictate behavior which ultimately leads to dictate and causes actions. Emotions also help humans to understand others and vice versa, creating empathy.
In 1972, Paul Ekman stated the six universal and common emotions that every human being experiences. These emotions are fear, disgust, anger, surprise, happiness, and sadness. In the 1980s, Robert Plutchik came forth with a new idea, the wheel of emotions. According to Plutchik, different emotions are combined or mixed. Therefore, a person can feel more than one emotion at the same time.
Ekman made a return in 1999 and added a few more fundamental emotions. These are emotions of embarrassment, contempt, shame, pride, satisfaction, excitement, and amusement. Adding these emotions into the spectrum with the other emotions further helps define and elaborate on this phenomenon.
Parkinson 1996 defines emotion as an interaction that emerges through these mediums. Various definitions have been stipulated to understand the meaning of emotion better. But before we understand those definitions further, we need to know the difference between emotions, moods, and feelings.
Difference between emotions, moods, and feelings
Emotions, moods, and feelings are three components of human psychology that are often interchanged. A common misconception leads them to be categorized as three words with the same or similar definitions.
However, these three terms are reasonably different and, in some cases, co-dependent. As per the American Psychological Association (APA), emotion is described as “a complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioral, and physiological elements,” which allows the person to deal with the matter at hand personally. This considers ideas and perceptions that are either enforced or triggered by various external elements.
APA describes feeling as a “self-contained phenomenal experience.” Therefore, they are “subjective, evaluative, and independent” of any thought or images that evoke them. Feelings, thus, largely depend on emotion and can be provoked by the revival of specific memories.
Lastly, the mood is described as an emotional state with low intensity and is usually short-lived. Here is the difference between these three psychological terms that we frequently interchange and confuse. Thus, when it comes to the idea of emotion, feelings are the result, and mood is another short-lived state.
Where do emotions come from?
One might wonder where emotions come from. Emotions come from a system known as the Limbic System, that are interconnected in the brain. The Limbic System is made up of the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala. We will discuss them below.
- Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus is an almond-sized component in the brain. It is located below the thalamus and above the pituitary gland. It is responsible for turning our emotions into physical responses as a reaction to various thoughts. For example, your heart rate increases when you are afraid.
- Hippocampus: The hippocampus is located in the medial temporal lobe. This part of the brain controls emotion recalling and regulation.
- Amygdala: The amygdala is another component that plays a role in human emotions and is located in the medial temporal lobe. It is situated in front of the hippocampus and is in each hemisphere. They regulate emotions that are related to our memories. They are processed in the limbic system that defines emotions such as fear or pleasure.
Social and cultural theories
Where emotions are seen as a component of the brain and cognitive activity, in many pieces of research, emotions are seen as a social construct. This means it is a by-product of what society dictates to be the adequate response. Thus, it is determined by the society and culture one is brought up in.
For instance, many anthropological studies state that emotions are described and vary in different languages. The Japanese language, for example, has a word called “amae,” which means love, where there is a dependency upon other people like a child has on their parents.
James Averill, a renowned psychologist, defined emotions in 1980 as a transitory social role. Thus, he proposed that social norms generate them. He employs the term “syndrome,” which means that each emotion covers a variety of elements. For example, Averill describes grief as a syndrome that has different responses; cry, shock, denial, anger, etc.
Components of emotions
In the acclaimed book, Discovering Psychology, Don Hockenbury and Sandra E. Hockenbury gave a detailed definition of emotion. They describe emotions as a “complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioral or expressive response.” Looking at these three components, we shall define each one of them in detail in order to better understand the term emotion.
The idea behind the subjective experience is to understand how everyone is different. Therefore, they have different emotions and experience them differently than other individuals. Moreover, these emotions do not always appear in their purest form and can be an amalgam of different emotions. Another word closely associated with subjective experience is the stimulus which we will look into further.
Emotional expression is a part of an individual’s life. Still, experiences that lead to their production are subjective and vary between cultures, communities, societies, and people. The experience can vary in intensity as well; it might occur as a result of the death of a loved one or the marriage of two loving individuals.
Nonetheless, the intensity does not interplay with the emotions that one experiences. However, it does lead to a person experiencing one or more emotions that may be different. Even with the death of a loved one, one might feel sadness while the other would experience extreme guilt.
When one experiences emotions, they also cause physiological responses. These responses or reactions are dependent on the autonomic nervous system, which controls the involuntary body responses that we come to use when experiencing intense emotions.
The sympathetic nervous system controls the body’s responses to the autonomic nervous system. The amygdala plays an essential role in emotions, leading to a physiological response that helps us evolve and survive.
Many studies have relayed that the autonomic physiological responses are most potent when a person’s facial expressions resemble the emotion they are undergoing. Therefore, facial expressions play a vital role in the physiological response to a feeling.
The last component of emotions is the behavioral response which is the expression of the emotion. These emotional expressions depend on societal ideals and the individual’s personality. Thus, a smile, a show of concern, or even anger depends on the individual’s upbringing and the norms one is raised in. Love, for instance, can be an emotion that is either expressed openly, covertly, or not at all, depending on upbringing.
Types of theories of emotion
Before we head on to list the various theories of emotion, we shall look at the types of views of emotions. There are three types of theories of emotion which are stated below:
- Physiological theories: A physiological approach informs the responses that occur within the body, which are ultimately responsible for emotion.
- Neurological theories: Neurological theories relay information on brain activity that leads to emotional response.
- Cognitive theories: A cognitive theory talks about thoughts and other mental actions that play a defining role in forming emotions.
Le Doux’s theory of the Emotional Brain
In 1999, Le Doux relayed a theory called the Emotional Brain. The amygdala is essential in the emotional brain because it is responsible for processing emotions. All they need is a trigger. Such as stress hormones, which are released when an individual experiences strong emotions.
The Le Doux theory of emotion revolves around the idea of there being two pathways for processing emotions. The short route is triggered when the emotional stimulus occurs. This leads to the sensory thalamus being notified and directly interacts with the amygdala which ultimately leads to an emotional response.
The alternate yet more accurate route is the long route. Hereafter an emotional stimulus is received and sent to the sensory thalamus; an indirect pathway has been opted. From the thalamus, it goes to the sensory cortex, from within the hippocampus, and into the amygdala, which leads to an emotional response.
The stimulus can be any trigger that might cause harm, fear, or any other process by the sensory thalamus. The different routes determine the response. For instance, in matters of emergency, the shorter way would be more applicable in life and death matters. In contrast, the longer route provides accuracy and thoroughness.
The flowchart below perfectly depicts Le Doux’s emotion or emotional brain theory.
Evolutionary theory of emotion
We are all aware of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. This figure played a vital role in defining human evolution, and his evolutionary theory of emotion works to study human behavior.
He believed that our ancestors or predecessors did a remarkable job in handling and adapting their emotions. For one, they used to confront the issue and develop solutions to overcome them. Once the answer presented itself, they created intelligible reliance on emotions which helped them to apply these solutions.
Charles Darwin worked with various researchers such as Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand. Duchenne conducted a study on human facial expressions with 60 emotions. He studied emotions by applying electrical current to the faces of the participants. This leads their faces to be affected by the muscle’s continual contraction. He believed that this study perfectly imaged the genuine emotional expressions of people and presented sixty different photographic plates.
However, Charles Darwin openly disagreed with this idea and started his own test, as discovered by Peter Snyder. He recreated the test by arranging a blind study in his own home.
Using 11 of those photographic slides, he placed them randomly, showing each one of them to 20 guests. Darwin did not provide prior knowledge or any further information on the task. Still, he asked the guests to guess the emotions in the photographs. The guests believed that there were certain emotions but disagreed about the others.
James-Lange’s theory of emotion
The theory of emotion was presented by William James (1884) and Carl Lange (1885). Both posited the belief that bodily changes erupt first and lead to the foundation of emotion and its experience. Therefore, it is concluded that the emotion one feels is related to physical sensations.
This theory has been criticized for not explaining the emotional aspect of human behavior without the presence of external factors, rules, or actions. James believed that the bodily responses lead to a stimulus which leads to the emotional experience becoming a conscious decision. Therefore, there are a set of fundamental emotions that have their own set of physical states. As stated by James in 1884, we “feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble,” and the list goes on.
The James-Lange theory of emotion challenges the emotional processing ideology. In this ideology, someone imagines an emotionally shocking event which leads to them experiencing that emotion. The body only reacts because of the emotion. James and Lange state that feelings occur not because of the event but because of the physiological reaction.
For example, the classical idea is that when one sees a bear, they experience fear and emotion and feel the emotional response take place, which leads them to tremble and dictate them as being afraid. James and Lange, however, state that when a person sees a bear and trembles, they realize they are shaking and become afraid.
Cannon-Bard’s theory of emotion
The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion was proposed and relayed by Walter B. Cannon and Philip Bard as a counter-response to James-Lange’s theory. They believe that other factors can lead to your physiological change. For example, James-Lange suggested that an increased heart rate means a person is afraid. However, Cannon-Bard stipulated that it could occur as a result of exercise or running.
Thus, the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion relies on the fact that one might experience a feeling and have a physiological experience simultaneously. Because the knowledge of emotion is controlled and dictated by the thalamus and the cortex, emotions and physiological responses act together but separately.
We are aware of the role the amygdala plays in emotion. When you see or experience something it leads to an external stimulus that travels through the thalamus and translates into the hypothalamus. In response, the hypothalamus produces an emotional response. For example, when we experience an adrenaline rush.
The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion is also called the Thalamus theory of emotion. This is because when one feels emotions and experiences, visible aspects are present on our face. For example, we shake or sweat when we are afraid. When we feel these triggers arise, two responses are sent, one to the amygdala and one to the autonomic nervous system. The amygdala helps to induce and govern the emotional response, while the autonomic nervous system controls the physical reactions.
Furthermore, they believe that certain events lead to simultaneous yet separate emotional expressions and physiological responses. However, their theory has been criticized for paying extra attention to the importance of the thalamus and does not consider other parts of the brain.
The image below perfectly captures the essence of Cannon-bard’s theory of emotion.
2 factor theory of emotion
The Schachter-Singer theory of emotion, also known as the 2 factor theory of emotion, is a cognitive look at sentiments. This theory stipulates that one must feel physiological arousal first, allowing a person to identify the reason behind it. Once the cause is identified, they can experience and label it as an emotion. Therefore, they believe that our thoughts somewhat relate to our feelings.
The stimulus leads to a physiological response which then the individual cognitively interprets and labels as an emotion. 2 factor theory takes inspiration from both James-Lange and Cannon-Bard’s theory of emotion.
For one, it believes that, as James-Lange suggested, our emotions are determined by our physiological responses. Moreover, similar to Cannon-Bard’s theory of emotion, emotions aligned with physiological responses can produce certain emotions. The 2 factor theory of emotion aligns these two. It states that feeling arousal is not enough because one should also identify it to feel the emotion.
A study performed by Schachter and Singer
In 1962, Schachter and Singer conducted a study to explain the 2 factor theory of emotion further. A group of 184 male participants was injected with epinephrine. This hormone produces arousal such as increased heartbeat, trembling, and shaking. The participants were informed that they were injected with a drug to test their eyesight.
One group was given a list of the plausible side-effects while the others were not. As a result, the participants who were not informed felt more anger or happiness than those who were notified. With the presence of a confederate, the participant with the euphoric confederate relayed the side-effects as happy or sad.
As a result, it was hypothesized that people who experience emotions and have no explanation for them label those feelings using what they feel at that moment. Thus, it aligned with the idea and proposal of the 2 factor theory of emotion by Schachter and Singer.
Lazarus’ theory of emotion
The last theory we will explore today is the theory of emotion presented by Lazarus. Also known as the Cognitive Appraisal Theory of emotion, Lazarus gave this idea in 1975.
In this theory, one assesses their emotional situation and tries to understand the event’s impact. This is measured by understanding how it would affect you, what the aspects are, and ultimately arriving at a response. The response is what would be deemed as the conclusion.
An appraisal is described as a process where one assesses how a situation will impact their well-being and growth. It is also a phenomenon that affects and studies the individual’s stress level. Without any ideas or clues, one solely acts based on experience.
There are two ways through which one can evaluate to understand the response.
- The Primary Appraisal: The first step is where one evaluates how the event affects personal growth and understanding. This step ultimately leads to determining what would occur in the second step.
- The Secondary Appraisal: The second step helps understand how people evaluate the factors and how they respond to them.
A study performed by Speisman et al.
In 1964, Speisman et al. performed a study that would further study and grow on Lazarus’ theory of emotion. Here, they explore the manipulation of emotions through Cognitive Appraisal.
The aim was to find out how manipulation affected and influenced cognitive appraisal. The participants were shown a series of disturbing films to find an answer. The film narrated a story of an aboriginal initiation where adolescent boys had to undergo an unpleasant genital cutting.
The researchers played three soundtracks in the background of the same film to manipulate the emotional response. Emphasis was placed on trauma, mutilating, and pain. There were two conditions within it; the intellectualization condition, an anthropological interpretation of the ceremony, and the denial condition where the boys were shown as happy and willing. To calculate the participants’ responses, their heart rates were tested and steadily increased.
The results of this research study showed that the participants in the trauma condition had undergone more psychological measures of stress than the rest as compared to the other two videos. Therefore, the process in which a stimulus occurs; cognitive appraisal leads to a physiological response. There are two views of the phenomenon:
- Cognitive assessment causes emotions, thus affecting how we view and analyze the event, which later leads to our emotions.
- Emotions cause cognitive appraisal, where the latter occurs after the emotion is felt.
Emotions are an integral part of our daily human life. It helps us to function and build human relationships. There are many different ideas related to emotions in terms of definition, understanding, and expression. Emotional expression may also vary from person to person, culture to culture, and society to society. Nonetheless, it is a vital part of our life that continues to grow.
Many theorists have wanted to acquire a clear understanding of emotion and thus, have presented theories. One can never be sure which theory to follow or adopt. You may agree with one and disagree with another. Nonetheless, theories of emotion explain the complex phenomenon and provide thought provoking information.
Theories such as Lazarus’ theory of emotion, the emotional brain by Le Doux, and even the 2 factor theory of emotion are some of the many ideas presented. And they are only expected to grow.