Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology

By Jon E. Roeckelein | Go to book overview

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SCHACHTER–SINGER’S THEORY OF EMOTIONS. The American psychologists Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer (1962) proposed a theory of emotions that challenged certain aspects of both the cognitive theory of emotions and the earlier James–Lange theory (James, 1890). Where these other theories assumed that each emotion is associated with a specific physiological state or condition (cf: Funkenstein, 1955), Schachter and Singer argued that individuals who are in a state of physiological arousal for which they have no explanation will label that state as an emotion that is appropriate to the situation in which they find themselves (e.g., the arousal will be labeled as ‘‘happy’’ if the person is at a party, but the same arousal state will be labeled as ‘‘angry’’ if the person is confronting another person in an argument). The experiments of Schachter and his associates point out the fact that emotions seem to depend on two components (Schachter–Singer’s theory is sometimes called a two-factor theory; Baron, 1992): (1) some kind of objective physiological arousal and (2) a subjective cognitive or mental process and appraisal whereby persons interpret and label their bodily changes. People who have no reasonable or objective explanation for their internal, emotional, or aroused state may interpret their mood in subjective terms according to their perception of the present environment. The Schachter–Singer theory has also been called the jukebox theory of emotions (e.g., Kagan & Havemann, 1968) because one’s physiology is aroused by some stimulus, where the arousing stimulus is compared to the coin placed in a jukebox. The stimulus sets off patterns of brain activity, especially in the hypothalamus, which, in turn, activates the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine glands, causing a state of general physiological arousal. The body’s sensory receptors report these physiological changes to the brain. However, the sensations are vague and can be labeled in many different ways, just as a jukebox activated by the coin can be made to play any one of a number of different

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