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Psychology Theories of Emotion

This topic is under the evolutionary, social as well as the cognitive perspectives of psychology. The evolutionary perspective seeks to understand the reason behind human emotions; the social area focuses on the emotions of the individual as a product of their environment whereas the cognitive field provides a description of the thought processes of the human brain when an emotional reaction occurred. According to James (1884, p.291),”the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of same changes as they occur is the emotion.” According to Lazarus (1991, p.830), “Emotion is a reaction to meaning, and if meaning is changed there will also be a change in the subsequent emotion.” With the different definitions of emotion from psychologists, so are their perspectives when proposing a theory different as well. There will be some key terms that will be mentioned, such as stimulus, arousal, autonomic nervous system (ANS), cognitive appraisal, cognitive interpretation and emotion.

In the James-Lange theory of emotion, a stimulus produces a physical arousal which leads to an emotion being interpreted (James, 1884; Lange, 1885, as cited in Ciccarelli & White, 2012). To support his hypothesis, James (1884, p.298) himself stated, “Refuse to express a passion, and it dies. Count ten before venting your anger, and its occasion seems ridiculous. Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech.” According to Fehr and Stern (1970) who studied on the understandings of emotional physiology revisited the James-Lange theory and concluded (Fehr & Stern, 1970) that the data accumulated based on their study are plausibly compatible with the theory. Fehr and Stern’s study (1970) gave more attention to the significance of the peripheral autonomic changes for a greater in-depth knowledge of the behaviour of emotion.

Based on the Schachter-Singer cognitive arousal theory, an emotion is experienced when both the arousal of the body and that arousal being labelled both occur at the same time (Schachter & Singer, 1962, as cited in Ciccarelli & White). The difference between the two aforementioned theories is that the latter has an additional component before the interpretation of the emotion which is the cognition appraisal that labels the bodily arousal. Their theory was supported by their very own experiment on the “Cognitive, Social, and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State” (Schachter & Singer, 1962, p.379). In the experiment, the participants were injected with epinephrine and were placed in one of two conditions; both had a confederate displaying the behaviours of anger and happiness in each of the conditions respectively (Schachter & Singer, 1962, as cited in Ciccarelli & White, 2012). When asked to describe their emotions, the participants appraised their arousal symptom as the behaviours the confederates displayed (Schachter & Singer, 1962, as cited in Ciccarelli & White). In the facial feedback hypothesis founded by Charles Darwin (1898), the expressions on the face will give a feedback to the brain regarding the emotion that was displayed, which consecutively causes, as well as accentuates the emotion (Darwin, 1898, as cited in Ciccarelli & White). The hypothesis was supported by the results of a research (Soussignan, 2002) shown that participants who showed Duchenne smiles had reports of greater positive experience when they were introduced with amusing and funny video clips. The participants seemed to display dissimilar orders of physical arousal while watching those clips that were positive (Soussignan, 2002).

On the other hand, according to the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion, the emotion and physiological reaction are believed to happen simultaneously (Cannon, 1927; Bard, 1934, as cited in Ciccarelli & White). “The thalamic region is a coordinating center for so-called ’emotional’ reactions.” (Cannon, 1931, p.283) This statement was supported by Bard with the observation of the presence of the thalamus causing a display of the ‘rage’ behaviour and the absence of the displaying of such emotion when the thalamus was removed (Bard, 1928, as cited in Cannon, 1931). Cannon (1927) also provided evidence on the significance of the presence of thalamus affecting the display of emotions. As instances, a man had a tumour affecting a particular side of his thalamus, under suitable situations, laughed unilaterally and displayed a frown showing he was in pain (Cannon,1927); and “that temporary impairment of cortical control of lower centers in light anesthesia or permanent impairment by disease releases free and often prolonged weeping or laughing.” (Cannon, 1927, p.284) Another theory that stressed on the importance of cognition is Lazarus’s cognitive-mediational theory. In this theory, the stimulus is first appraised cognitively then causing an emotional reaction which will be closely accompanied by a physical response (Lazarus, 1991, as cited in Ciccarelli & White). “When all is said and done, a cognitive-motivational-relational theory of emotion has great power to help us reason forward about how emotion is generated and how it shaped subsequent adaptations.” (Lazarus, 1991, p.832) A hypothesis predicted that the appraisal of threat has a positive relation to negative emotions such as worry, fear, and anxiety under the circumstances of reformatting organizations (Fugate, Kinicki, Prussia, 2005). They functionalized the appraisal of threat by associating both the primary and secondary appraisal (Fugate, Kinicki, Prussia). Primary appraisal is a person’s judgement of the effect of a setting on the individual’s life (Fugate, Kinicki, Prussia). “Secondary appraisal is an assessment of one’s capability (e.g., resources) to deal with the person-situation transaction. It represents an individual’s perceptions about what can be done to mitigate a loss or facilitate a benefit.” (Fugate, Kinicki, Prussia, p.L1) They also gave extra legitimacy to Tomaka’s appraise of cognition ratio, and shown it’s applicability under organizational circumstance (Fugate, Kinicki, Prussia).

As a summary, the James-Lange Theory, Schachter-Singer cognitive arousal theory, and facial feedback theory all proposed that the physical arousal is the first (or one of the first) response towards a stimulus to produce a physiological reaction. Schachter-Singer cognitive arousal theory, facial feedback theory as well as the Lazarus’s cognitive-mediational theory all included the cognitive appraisal whereas the Cannon-Bard theory proposed that the thalamus which is in the brain sends the sensory information to the cortex which produces an emotional reaction. Up to this day, there is no evidence to prove which of the theories mentioned above is the right one. However it can be said that in certain situations where emotional reactions are bound to happen, those theories can be relevant and fitting.

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