stimulus e.g. a bear
(controlled by ANS
system) and skeletal
bodily changes by
the cortex, which is
emotion e.g. feeling
The James-Lange theory of emotion – ‘I am afraid because I am trembling’
Relationship between physiological arousal and our subjective experience of emotions (reference
to the theories of James-Lange, Cannon-Bard and Schachter).
Emotion is something everybody experiences independently of whether they’re human or an
animal, whether they’re male or female or whether they’re 2 or 100 years old, it is seen by many as a
form of communication brought about through evolution. Where emotion does become interesting, to
psychologists, is the issues surrounding the relationship between physiological arousal and emotion.
This relates to questions such as, is emotion physical or is it a separate entity altogether? Does
physiological arousal determine emotion or does emotion determine physiological arousal? It has only
become recent knowledge that there may be some cognitive parts to the relationship between
physiological arousal and our subjective emotions.
To best answer the question, do we feel afraid because we tremble or do we tremble because
we are afraid? I will take a look at answering what is fear? And what is trembling? Only when this has
been made clear, can I discuss the relationship between physiological arousal and our subjective
experience of emotions as dictated in the three theories of emotion, the James-Lange Theory, the
Cannon- Bard theory and Schachter’s theory. I will then give my personal opinion on the three theories
of emotion and on the relationship between physiological arousal and emotion. I will conclude this
essay by summarizing the ideas given above in order to answer the question, do we feel afraid because
we tremble or do we tremble because we are afraid?
In 1972 Ekman
and in 1975 Ekman &Friesen identified six primary emotions: fear,
sadness, surprise, happiness, disgust and anger. There experiments focused on testing the recognition of
facially expressed emotions on subjects, and examining which facially expressed emotions were
recognized in the same way by subjects with different cultural backgrounds. The experiment suggested
that primary emotions such as fear were innate emotions, brought about through evolution as a form of
social communication and has an adaptive function in survival. Ekman also believed that primary
emotions could be aroused unconsciously as shown by his quote “Quick onset is central to the adaptive
value of emotions, mobilizing us quickly to respond to important events… (Ekman, 1994)”.
Each emotion has its distinct components consisting of the subjective experience such as fear,