Theories of Emotion
Emotion is a complex, subjective experience accompanied by biological and behavioral
involves feeling, thinking, activation of the
changes, and behavioral changes such as facial expressions.
Different theories exist regarding how and why people experience emotion. These include
evolutionary theories, the
-Lange theory, the
-Bard theory, Schacter and Singer’s
two-factor theory, and cognitive appraisal.
More than a century ago, in the 1870s, Charles Darwin proposed that emotions evolved
because they had adaptive value. For example, fear evolved because it helped people to act in
ways that enhanced their chances of survival.
believed that facial expressions of
emotion are innate (hard-wired). He pointed out that facial expressions allow people to
quickly judge someone’s hostility or friendliness and to communicate intentions to others.
Recent evolutionary theories of emotion also consider emotions to be innate responses to
stimuli. Evolutionary theorists tend to downplay the influence of thought and
emotion, although they acknowledge that both can have an effect. Evolutionary theorists
believe that all human cultures share several primary emotions, including happiness,
contempt, surprise, disgust, anger, fear, and sadness. They believe that all other emotions
result from blends and different intensities of these primary emotions. For example, terror is a
more intense form of the primary emotion of fear.
The James-Lange Theory
In the 1880s, two theorists, psychologist William James and physiologist Carl Lange,
independently proposed an idea that challenged commonsense beliefs about emotion. This
idea, which came to be known as the James-Lange theory, is that people experience emotion
because they perceive their bodies’ physiological responses to external events. According to
, people don’t cry because they feel sad. Rather, people feel sad because they cry,
and, likewise, they feel happy because they smile. This theory suggests that different
physiological states correspond to different experiences of emotion.
The Cannon-Bard Theory
The physiologist Walter Cannon disagreed with the James-Lange theory, posing three main
arguments against it:
People can experience physiological arousal without experiencing emotion, such as when they have been running.
(The racing heart in this case is not an indication of fear.)
Physiological reactions happen too slowly to cause experiences of emotion, which occur very rapidly. For example,