Emotion and Theories of Emotion

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Introduction

Emotion as a term is largely difficult to define. This is essentially because the words used to define emotion are in themselves difficult to explain. The terms used to describe emotion include but are not in any way limited to a feeling or an observable thought. Over time, people have tried to understand emotion and it is probable that emotion and its nature shall continue to be debated for quite sometime to come. In this text, I define emotion in the context of a theory from psychology.


Emotion from the Schachter-Singer Theory perspective

The general acceptance of the Schachter-Singer Theory has been mainly informed by the ability of this theory to integrate the active contribution of cognitive factors as well as psychological arousal as far as emotional determination is concerned. This theory recognizes the role of what are referred to as steering functions over emotional arousal of a psychological nature. According to Schachter-Singer Theory, what informs the emotion arousal include a wide range of cognitive labels. It is important to note that this theory is also widely known as the two factor theory as a result of its submission that two components influence or affect human emotion, that is, cognition and psychological arousal. It can also be noted that one of the main reasons that influenced the Schachter-Singer Theory at the time of its discovery was the prevailing cognitive resolution tide in the psychological field. It hence made sense to incorporate the cognitive factors influence as far as emotions were concerned and hence the Schachter-Singer Theory came largely to address this issue.


What actually informed Schachter as well as Singer to posit that emotional states were largely influenced by cognitive factors was the need to account for the observation that there was no match for mood as well as emotional states and visceral patterns which could be said to be experienced in sexual variety. In this regard therefore, what is presented by the theory is an emotional experience model that is largely hinged on cognitive labels as a result of excitation (psychological). According to Power (2008), the Schachter-Singer


Theory presents a formidable argument that the emotional object is sensed by an individual by way o the sense organs. This perception is then followed by an autonomic arousal that is largely induced. This is what is taken to be a general pattern of excitation (sympathetic) and it is usually accompanied by a given cognitive label that is critical when it comes to the interpretation of the situation. Further, the theory goes ahead to present a number of feedback mechanisms which can largely be taken to be salient. To describe the Schachter-Singer Theory in a sequence consider below;


Event—–arousal——reasoning——emotion

To illustrate the Schachter-Singer Theory, an example would be appropriate;

For instance, suppose an individual is passing through a deserted cemetery at night and behind him he hears footsteps. Chances are that this individual will experience a constellation of feelings including trembling, deep breathing as well as a faster heart rate. It is clear such an arousal would be triggered by a number of factors including but not in any way limited to the fear a deserted cemetery motivates, previous stories of ghosts, a believe in ghosts looming in cemeteries as well as the fact that he or she is walking alone at night; a behavior that is largely dangerous. All these constellate and the result is the emotion of fear.


Empirical support and criticism

It is important to note that over time, the Schachter-Singer Theory has attracted more than its fair share of criticism as well as empirical support. Those who have over time supported the findings of Schachter and Singer  include Dutton and Aron wise study that was considered to be largely influential concluded that the Schachter-Singer Theory was indeed accurate and on point. In brief, they concluded that through arousal misattribution, it was possible to induce arousal feelings in such a way that they can be projected t be sexual attraction. However, as noted above, the Schachter-Singer Theory has also had its fair share of criticism. Critics note that the Schachter-Singer Theory concerns itself to much on the excitation general pattern. Others accuse the Schachter-Singer Theory of being founded primarily on the nervous system (autonomic) and hence largely assuming other equally important emotional processes.


Bernstein (2010) is of the opinion that the Schachter-Singer Theory was highly relevant as it motivated the formulation of a number of other theories which either oppose, criticizes or build on it. This has further helped shed more light in the nature of emotions and the processes that inform the same.


The facial feedback theory

This postulates that the skeletal muscles in our faces inform emotion. For instance, this theory is of the opinion that smiling brings about a pleasurable feeling and o the other hand, the act of frowning might bring about an experience of intense sadness. According to this theory, the basis of the emotions human beings experienced is founded on the facial muscles shifts that give our brains cues. In Bernstein (2010) opinion, the wide range of emotions we experience are as a result of the wide range of facial muscle configurations. The sequence below explains the theory


Event——Facial Changes——Emotion

It is actually one of the simplest emotional theories and to highlight as example of the facial expression theory, an example would be appropriate.

For instance, if an individual is walking alone in the middle of the night across a dark deserted cemetery and behind him he hears a series of doorsteps, he shall inevitably elicit a number of facial expressions that shall, go a long way towards dictation the emotion he or she shall experience, at last according to the facial expression theory. For instance, such an individual may clench is teeth and widen his eyes and his brain will go ahead to pick these facial expressions and interpret the same as fear expressions. In such a case, the individual concerned in this case shall experience an emotion of fear. It is important to note that though this theory may seem to deviate from the earlier theory discussed above, i.e. the Schachter-Singer Theory, it goes a long way to build on the same and indeed shows that emotions is as complex as it can get and hence there is no single act that can be said to inform emotion.


The James-Lange theory

His is yet another theory of emotion that has an uncanny semblance to the Schachter-Singer Theory. It is based on an argument that the interpretation of an arousal actually takes place after a psychological arousal has been triggered by an event. According to this theory therefore, emotion can only be experienced after the interpretation of an arousal. It therefore follows that failure to give the arousal our attention means that an emotion shall not be experienced.  It is hence important to note that according to the James-Lange


Theory, a psychological reaction in an individual is always as a result of external stimulus. Hence the emotion one experiences is largely hinged on how an individual interprets the reactions (physical). According to Power (2008), the gist of the James-Lange Theory is that the perception is always preceded by changes in the body of an individual. It hence follows that the feelings triggered by the occurrence of the bodily changes is what is taken to be the emotion. For instance, supposing an individual is taking a stroll in a deserted street and he encounters a burly bearded and rugged man carrying a machete, the individual shall experience an emotion of fear whether of not he shall be threatened by the burly man or not.


He process here is that the sight of such a man who is obviously scary shall invoke bodily changes such as trembling and an increased rate of heartbeat. The James-Lange Theory is of the opinion that such an individual would be frightened as a result of his own interpretation of the physical reaction he will experience. This is to say that such an individual would think ‘hey, am trembling and my heart rate is not normal; hence I am scared or afraid’. The sequence below explains the James-Lange Theory;


Event—–Arousal—-Interpretation——-Emotion

To further illustrate this theory, it would be appropriate to use thye cemetery analogy already used in our two examples above. For instance, an individual is walking across a deserted cemetery on a lonely night. Midway as he hears a series of footsteps behind him or her. This event shall inform a number of bodily changes including a faster heart rate as well as intense trembling and sweating. When the individual notices such changes which can largely be interpreted as psychological, he shall interpret them as his or her body’s reaction to a situation that is fearful. This is what shall inform the emotion of fear.


It may be noted that thye James-Lange Theory has also had its fair share of critics from a wide variety of quarters. Amongst those who are most critical of this theory claim that in laboratory research carried over time, the severing of viscera nerves did not affect in any way the emotions of rats.


Recognition of other theories

Apart from the theories discussed above, there exist a number of other theories including the cannon-Bard Theory which postulated that emotional as well as psychological arousal occurs at the same time. However, one of the aspects of the cannon-Bard Theory that have been largely criticized includes its omission of the part played by not only outward behavior but thoughts as well. For instance, assuming that an individual walking across a cemetery hears footsteps behind him, his hear rate may increase and he may tend to draw deeper breaths. The theory is of the opinion that fear as an emotion is experienced at the same instance the changes (psychological) are being experienced. The other theory is the Lazarus theory which is of the opinion that emotion is preceded by thought. This is to say that for an individual to experience an emption, that individual must first think about a specific situation or scenario.


The application of the theories to the definition of emotion

From the theories presented, it is clear that emotion is hard to define as it seems to be informed by a wide range of factors. It hence follows that from the theories discussed above, emotion is essentially a process informed by a constellation of psychological changes, behavior (outward expression) as well as thought. It is therefore important to note that with time, numerous theories may be developed to reinforce the one in place so as to enhance the understanding of emotion.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the theories postulated above show that emotion does not exist in a vacuum. In that regard, there happens to be a precise process as far as emotions are concerned i.e.  the order of occurrence of behavior, psychological arousal, as well as thought.


References

Bernstein, D.A. (2010). Essentials of Psychology. Cengage Learning

Power, M.J. (2008). Cognition and emotion: from order to disorder. Routledge


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