Emotions exert an incredibly powerful force on human behavior. Strong emotions can cause you to do actions that you normally cannot perform or avoid situations that you like. Why exactly do we have emotions? What makes us have these feelings? Researchers, philosophers and psychologists have proposed different theories to explain the how and why behind human emotions.
What is emotion?
In psychology, emotion is often defined as a complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thinking and behavior.
Emotionality is associated with a number of psychological phenomena, including temperament, personality, mood and motivation. According to the author David G. Meyers, human emotion involves “… physiological excitement, expressive behaviors and conscious experience”.
Theories of Emotion
The main theories of motivation can be grouped into three main categories: physiological, neurological and cognitive. 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 activities play an essential role in the formation of emotions.
1. Evolutionary theory of emotion
It was the naturalist Charles Darwin who proposed that emotions evolved because they were adaptive and allowed humans and animals to survive and reproduce . The feelings of love and affection lead people to seek companions and to reproduce.
Feelings of fear compel people to fight or flee the source of danger.
According to the evolutionary theory of emotion, our emotions exist because they have an adaptive role . Emotions motivate people to respond quickly to stimuli in the environment, which helps to improve the chances of success and survival.
Understanding the emotions of other people and animals also plays a crucial role in safety and survival. If you encounter a hissing animal, drooling showing its claws, you are likely to quickly realize that the animal is scared or defensive and leave it alone. By being able to correctly interpret the emotional displays of other people and animals, you can respond correctly and avoid danger.
2. James-Lange’s 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, James-Lange’s theory of emotion suggests that emotions occur as a result of physiological reactions to events .
This theory suggests that when you see an external stimulus it leads to a physiological reaction. Your emotional reaction depends on how you interpret these physical reactions. For example, suppose you are walking in the forest and see a brown bear. You start to shake and your heart beats. The James-Lange theory proposes that you interpret your physical reactions and conclude that you are scared (“I am shaking. So I am scared”).
According to this theory of emotion, you are not shaking because you are scared. Instead, you feel scared because you are shaking.
3. Cannon-Bard’s 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 for several different reasons. First, he suggested, people can experience physiological reactions linked to emotions without actually feeling those emotions. For example, your heart may run because you have exercised and not because you are afraid.
Cannon also suggested that emotional responses occur very quickly so that they are simply products of physical states.
When you encounter danger in the environment, you will often feel fear before you begin to experience the physical symptoms associated with fear, such as shaking hands, breathing quickly, and a racing heart.
Cannon first proposed his theory in the 1920s and his work was later expanded by physiologist Philip Bard during the 1930s. According to Cannon-Bard’s theory of emotions , we experience emotions and experience physiological reactions such as sweating, tremors and tension muscle simultaneously.
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 that trigger the emotional experience. Cannon and Bard’s theory suggests that the physical and psychological experience of emotion happens at the same time and not that one causes the other.
4. Schachter-Singer’s theory of emotions (Theory of two factors of emotion)
Also known as the theory of the two factors of emotion , the theory of Schachter-Singer of emotions is an example of a cognitive theory of emotion. This theory suggests that physiological arousal occurs first, and then the individual must identify the reason for that arousal in order to experience and label it as an emotion. A stimulus leads to a physiological response that is then cognitively interpreted and labeled, which results in an emotion.
Schachter and Singer’s theory has some of James-Lange’s theory and Cannon-Bard’s theory of emotion. Like the James-Lange theory, the Schachter-Singer theory proposes that people infer emotions based on physiological responses. The critical factor is the situation and the cognitive interpretation that people use to label that emotion.
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 sweat on the palms of your hands during an important math test, you will likely identify the emotion as anxiety. If you have the same physical responses in an encounter with your significant other, you can interpret those responses as love, affection or excitement.
5. Theory of cognitive assessment
According to theories of emotion assessment, thinking must occur before experiencing emotion. Richard Lazarus was a pioneer in this area of emotion, and this theory is often referred to as Lazarus’s theory of emotions or Lazarus’s cognitive theory of emotion .
According to this theory, the sequence of events involves a stimulus first, followed by a thought that leads to the simultaneous experience of a physiological response and emotion. For example, if you encounter a bear in the forest, you can immediately start 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.
6. Theory of Emotion of facial feedback
The theory of facial emotion feedback suggests that facial expressions are linked to the experimentation of emotions. Charles Darwin and William James noted earlier that sometimes physiological responses often have a direct impact on emotion, rather than simply being a consequence of emotion. Proponents of this theory suggest that emotions are directly linked to changes in facial muscles. For example, people who are forced to smile pleasantly for a social function will feel better at the event than if they had frowned or had a more neutral facial expression.