Three Emotional Theories

With my basic concept of wanting to produce a piece of work based around emotion and how audiences react to different emotional factors, I decided to start researching into theories that could relate to my project.

I came across three different theories that based around emotional representation and how emotion is created within an audience.

  1. James-Lange Theory

This theory originated from William James and Carl Lange in the late 1800’s. Even though both theorists developed their initial theories individually, they were quick to discover that they had very similar ideas about audiences and emotion.

Their theory was that “emotion is not directly caused by the perception of an event but rather by the bodily response caused by the event.”

This theory suggests that in order to experience emotion we must first experience a bodily response, for example the function of fast breathing, sweaty palms and a racing heart. Our brain is then designed to link the bodily response to a certain emotion e.g. if you are watching a scary film and a horror scene is being played then your heart will begin to race which your brain will then link to the emotion of fear.

    2. Cannon-Bard Theory

This theory began with a theorist named Walter Cannon and he believed that there was many flaws within the James-Lange theory (Cannon, 1927).

Cannon found that “in certain animals, like cats, emotions occur even if the brain was cut off from the information about bodily responses”.  His main argument was that “the same bodily responses accompany different emotions”, for example a racing heart could signify anger, excitement or fear.

Cannon concluded that our brain cannot just rely on bodily responses to know which emotion we are experiencing, which is where theorist Phillip Bard agreed with his conclusion.

Through Cannon and Bard’s research they created the theory that the “experience of an emotion does not depend on input from the body and how it is responding. Both the experience of the emotion and the bodily response occur at the same time independently of each other.”

    3. Schacter-Singer Theory

The theory of Schacter and Singer  suggests that “experiencing an emotion requires both bodily response and an interpretation of the bodily response by considering the situation that an individual may be in at that precise moment ” (Schacter and Singer, 1962)

For example, if a heart is racing because somebody is being chased by an angry dog then that could suggest fear; however if a heart is racing because you are looking at somebody that you love then that can be considered as excitement.

 References :

Cannon, W. B. (1927) The James-Lange theory of emotion: A critical examination and an alternative theory. American Journal of Psychology, 39, 10-124.

James, W. (1884). What is emotion?, Mind, 9, 188-205.

Lange, C. (1887). Ueber Gemuthsbewgungen, 3, 8.

Schachter, S. & Singer, J. E. (1962). Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological Review, 69, 379-399.


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