What Are the 6 Major Theories of Emotion?
Some of the Major Theories to Explain Human Emotions
By Kendra Cherry, Updated May 10, 2017
What Is Emotion?
In psychology, emotion is often defined as a complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behavior. (We’re knee deep in magical thinking already – inverted and circular “reasoning” at the same time!)
Emotionality is associated with a range of psychological phenomena, including temperament, personality, mood, and motivation. According to author David G. Meyers, human emotion involves “…physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience.” (Just what do “psychological” and “conscious” mean here? Psychology is rife with “opportunities” for misinformation and crazy interpretation because it lacks self-regulation for standards of “scientific behavior” on the part of its researchers and practitioners. It is a “secular religion”)
Theories of Emotion
The major theories of motivation (?) can be grouped into three main categories: physiological, neurological, and cognitive. (This implies that neurological activity and cognitive activity are not physical phenomenon) Physiological theories suggest that responses within the body are responsible for emotions.
Neurological theories propose that activity within the brain leads to emotional responses. Finally, cognitive theories argue that thoughts and other mental activity play an essential role in forming emotions. (that chopping up into categorical objects again – thoughts and whatever other “mental activity” refers to – are held to be objects that act on other objects. Psychology is hopelessly stuck in a pre-20th C. conception of “physics” –
Where have psychologists been for the past 100+ years of scientific revolution?
Evolutionary Theory of Emotion
It was naturalist Charles Darwin (also a geologist) who proposed that emotions evolved because they were adaptive and allowed humans and animals to survive and reproduce. Feelings of love and affection lead people to seek mates and reproduce. Feelings of fear compel people to either fight or flee the source of danger. (Oh dear, the social narrative intrudes, as usual)
According to the evolutionary theory of emotion, our emotions exist because they serve an adaptive role. Emotions motivate people to respond quickly to stimuli in the environment, which helps improve the chances of success and survival. (Standard social blah, blah, blah)
Understanding the emotions of other people and animals also plays a crucial role in safety and survival. If you encounter a hissing, spitting, and clawing animal, chances are you will quickly realize that the animal is frightened or defensive and leave it alone. By being able to interpret correctly the emotional displays of other people and animals, you can respond correctly and avoid danger. (That’s it? That’s not a theory. That’s a script for a PBS kid’s show.)
The James-Lange Theory of Emotion
The James-Lange theory is one of the best-known examples of a physiological theory of emotion. Independently proposed by psychologist William James and physiologist Carl Lange, the James-Lange theory of emotion suggests that emotions occur as a result of physiological reactions to events. (A scientific theory does not “suggest” – it produces one or more testable hypotheses; generates valid experiments and must be independently confirmed or disproven. Neurotypicals reject this method, because they only believe in “social” authority. Independent “reality” does not exist for them.)
This theory suggests that when you see (or sense – we have multiple senses) an external stimulus that leads to a physiological reaction. (This is so.) Your emotional reaction is dependent upon how you interpret those physical reactions.
For example, suppose you are walking in the woods and you see a grizzly bear. You begin to tremble, and your heart begins to race. The James-Lange theory proposes that you will interpret your physical reactions and conclude that you are frightened (“I am trembling. Therefore, I am afraid”). According to this theory of emotion, you are not trembling because you are frightened. Instead, you feel frightened because you are trembling.
(Amazing how the standard “fear response” – common to primates, mammals and other animals, can be “negated” by “pausing” to think about what’s going on – and coming up with a “cognitive interpretation” of one’s physiologic response to an ACTUAL threat – the presence of a grizzly bear: fear is an instinctual response – WHATEVER WORD(S) YOU CHOOSE TO DESCRIBE IT. This scenario is plausible and applicable only if there is no danger present. If you are sitting quietly in your living room, and experience the rush of adenaline, etc, that is the FFF response, you might stop to think “Gee, there’s no danger present, but I feel afraid – this must be a “false alarm” – and this realization may result in a cessation of the physiological response. But – anyone who makes this “interpretation” when confronted by actual threat will be in serious trouble.
The Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion
Another well-known physiological theory is the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion. Walter Cannon disagreed with the James-Lange theory of emotion on several different grounds. First, he suggested, people can experience physiological reactions linked to emotions (?) without actually feeling those emotions. For example, your heart might race because you have been exercising and not because you are afraid. (Mind-boggling)
Cannon also suggested that emotional responses occur much too quickly for them to be simply products of physical states. (Beyond mind-boggling)
When you encounter a danger in the environment, you will often feel afraid before you start to experience the physical symptoms associated with fear such as shaking hands, rapid breathing, and a racing heart. (Okay, this is simply stupid! We are confronted again by “supernatural” fear that precedes the actual physical response that IS FEAR. And this “supernatural” power travels faster than the speed of light. LOL!)
Cannon first proposed his theory in the 1920s and his work was later expanded on by physiologist Philip Bard during the 1930s. According to the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion, we feel emotions and experience physiological reactions such as sweating, trembling, and muscle tension simultaneously.
(Gee, could it be that these two “categorical objects” are one and the same phenomenon – that “emotions ARE physiological responses? This is an example of the archaic conception of “mind and body” as separate “things” – and the attribution to a supernatural dimension the “magical patterns and templates” that are believed to “create” reality.)
More specifically, it is suggested that emotions result when the thalamus sends a message to the brain in response to a stimulus, resulting in a physiological reaction. At the same time, the brain also receives signals (via amorphous goo from the supernatural dimension?) triggering the emotional experience. Cannon and Bard’s theory suggests that the physical and psychological experience of emotion happen at the same time and that one does not cause the other. (Separate but equal? That’s justice!)
(The neurotypical brain simply cannot let go of the “magical thinking” stage common in childhood, which attributes all phenomena to MAGICAL POWERS that defy physical reality. ‘Psychological’ refers to the imaginary explanations and narratives that are necessary to the neotenic brain, which is frozen in infantile conceptions. These narratives are created by social indoctrination into a subjective and isolated cultural context)
Also known as the two-factor theory of emotion, the Schachter-Singer Theory is an example of a cognitive theory of emotion. This theory suggests that the physiological arousal occurs first, and then the individual must identify the reason for this arousal to experience and label it as an emotion. (At last – someone recognizes “emotion words” as LABELS) A stimulus leads to a physiological response that is then cognitively interpreted and labeled which results in an emotion. (AYE, yai, yai! The “emotion” IS the physiological response. The “labels” are the myriad words that children are taught to use to “parse” the physical experience into socially-approved verbal expressions. Only social humans could invent this awkward imposition of “cognition as verbal manipulation” as existing prior to instinct in evolution.)
Schachter and Singer’s theory draws on both the James-Lange theory and the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion. Like the James-Lange theory, the Schachter-Singer theory proposes that people do infer emotions based on physiological responses. The critical factor is the situation and the cognitive interpretation that people use to label that emotion. (My head hurts, my stomach hurts, I’m out of exclamations of shock and disbelief. Children “learn” to label physiological response as “verbal” expressions, which are specific to their particular social and cultural context. Many societies also demand that “physical emotion responses” be quashed, hidden or forbidden expression.)
Like the Cannon-Bard theory, the Schachter-Singer theory also suggests that similar physiological responses can produce varying emotions. For example, if you experience a racing heart and sweating palms during an important math exam, you will probably identify the emotion as anxiety. If you experience the same physical responses on a date with your significant other, you might interpret those responses as love, affection, or arousal.
(This demolishes the idea that “emotions” are distinct categories of experience or “objects” in the brain, body or supernatural dimension. The ever-expanding array of “parts” that constitute brain and body in Western culture is astounding – and imaginary. The incredible number of “emotion words” in languages, do not each correspond to “an emotion”. They are invented labels.)
Cognitive Appraisal Theory
According to appraisal theories of emotion, thinking must occur first before experiencing emotion. Richard Lazarus was a pioneer in this area of emotion, and this theory is often referred to as the Lazarus theory of emotion.
According to this theory, the sequence of events first involves a stimulus, followed by thought which then leads to the simultaneous experience of a physiological response and the emotion. For example, if you encounter a bear in the woods, you might immediately begin to think that you are in great danger. This then leads to the emotional experience of fear and the physical reactions associated with the fight-or-flight response. (Nonsense again – this conceit that “conscious thinking via verbal language” is SUPERIOR to instinct screws up analysis of “how things work” The effectiveness of instinct is that you don’t have to THINK ABOUT IT! Instinctual behavior is automatic and has been aiding survival of myriad species for hundreds of millions of years!)
Facial-Feedback Theory of Emotion
The facial-feedback theory of emotions suggests that facial expressions are connected to experiencing emotions. (That does not a theory make) Charles Darwin and William James both noted early on that sometimes physiological responses often had a direct impact on emotion (for the love of sanity: the physiological response IS EMOTION), rather than simply being a consequence of the emotion. Supporters of this theory suggest that emotions are directly tied to changes in facial muscles. For example, people who are forced to smile pleasantly at a social function will have a better time at the event than they would if they had frowned or carried a more neutral facial expression.
(The “jump” from “reverse smiling” – mimicry – which may stimulate a pleasant “feeling” to the socially-mandated “having a better time at an event” demonstrates belief in contagious magic.)