PSY323-Schachter-Singer Theory of Emotion

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Throughout many situations in a person’s daily life, he or she will encounter many emotions. Emotions come from an inferred response to a stimulus that deals with subjective changes and neural arousals to have a certain behavior reaction. Although researchers have been able to understand certain emotions, it is still hard to determine what emotions the individual is really feeling. Studies have shown that there is methods that help people classify the breakdown of emotions. Some methods used are: self reports, physiological measurements, and behaviors. Self reports are easy to collect but difficult to use to fully understand emotions because it is subjective to the individual. There is no way of really knowing whether two people feel the same way to come up with the same emotion. Then there is the physiological measurements which refer to the heart rate, breathing patterns, blood pressure, and brain activity occurring during an emotional arousal. The last way to understand emotion is through behavior. This includes facial expressions, vocal expressions, or how individuals react to the emotion. Behavior is something that another person, that is close by, can understand the situation by observing the “victim” of emotion.

As psychologists have become more interested in emotions, and individuals have been trying to identify emotions for quite some time now, there have been many theories of emotion that base the results on each of the methods. They have developed their own theories to define emotions. One of the theories is the Schachter- Singer theory, proposed by Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer, in which the arousal and other actions that are part of any emotion are essential or determining how strong the emotional feeling will be, but they do not identify the emotion. You identify which emotion you feel on the basis of all the information you have about a situation (Kalat & Shiota 2007). The process of a situation that gets determined by the emotion is: dealing with a stimulus, then the individual uses his or her interpretation of the situation, and then he or she puts the interpretation into context and realizes how to feel or act a certain way. These approaches assert that the cognitive processing of psychological and physiological cues relies on situational cues for the definition of discrete emotional experiences (Truax). The individual needs to appraise the situation first, then he or she acts in a certain way to “fit in” with the crowd. Schachter's model does not explicitly state whether the lack of internal responsiveness in the obese is a cause or a consequence of their exaggerated external responsiveness, or whether these two phenomena are coeffects or some more primary source; however, there is an implication that the elevated external responsiveness serves to compensate for the deficit in internal responsiveness (Polivy, Herman, & Warsh). Individuals have to take into consideration what the surroundings are around them and what type of crowd or obstacles they are facing to feel the emotion correctly. The time of day plays a role in how people are feeling and what emotions are felt at a certain moment. Schachter and Singer's theory suggested that overall level of emotionality should also vary by time of day to the extent that arousal varies in a diurnal cycle (Wells). It is suggested that people are usually happier in the morning due to the start of a new day and no other events have occurred. In the evening, people are usually tired from the long day at work or school and it interferes with their emotions. So research needs to find a time where everyone can be in the same mood to understand how people feel at a certain time.

Example - Research

A concrete example of Schachter and Singer is that they attempted to manipulate both the level of arousal in their subjects and the cognitive labels for that arousal. Subjects were first given an injection of either epinephrine (synthetic adrenalin) or saline. Concurrent with the injection, subjects who receive epinephrine were correctly informed about the drug they received, misinformed about the injection (in one set of conditions), or not told anything about the injection. Immediately after the injection a confederate, introduced as another subject, joined the subject and one of two alternative procedures followed. In one alternative, the euphoria condition, the subject and confederate were instructed to wait for the next part of the experience in a room with a variety of paraphernalia. While waiting the confederate when through a zany routine which included playing basketball with paper wads and a wastebasket, making and flying a paper airplane, and playing with a pair of hula hoops. The confederate’s actions and comments were intended to induce a euphoric atmosphere. In the other procedure, the anger condition, the subject and confederate were expected to fill out a long questionnaire, which asked increasingly personal questions in an insulting manner. The confederate made standardized comments showing increased anger while filling out the questionnaire, culminating in his throwing down the questionnaire and stomping out of the room. In the euphoric condition subjects who received epinephrine and were misinformed or not informed about the injection reported feeling happier than the correctly informed subjects (Cotton). This is true in any life situation. People tend to be in better moods when they enjoy their surroundings and can relate to their interests. Not many people are fond of taking tests, in any formation, questionnaires or tests for lessons covered in the classroom. So, it is not surprising that when people are put in a euphoric atmosphere, they feel better about themselves and enjoy the situation.

Example - Real-life

A situation can occur in real life and the individual has to be able to realize his or her surroundings to understand a specific emotion being learned. For example, a family lives in the hills of a certain city and they get wild animals in the neighborhood all the time. This is very important information for the family to understand because they have to watch out for the animals when they arrive home and get out of their cars to go inside the house. One summer night, an individual was arriving home late at night when no other people were outside or awake. He parked his car outside the house ready to go inside and go to sleep, but then as he walks toward the door from across the street he notices a brown bear, which came from the hills looking for food, going through the trash right outside the front door of the house. The individual feels fear of the bear, his heart is pounding, he starts sweating, and his blood pressure increases, rapid breathing occurs, and he does not know what to do. This is definitely the emotion of fear, according to the Schachter- Singer Theory of emotion, due to the information we have about the situation. The individual knows that no one is around to help him and that he cannot get passed the bear to get inside without disturbing it. Most people fear animals that are bigger than humans and that are dangerous, so according to the Schachter-Singer Theory this is definitely the emotion of fear or being scared because the individual gathered certain facts and information about the situation and came to the emotion. Individuals should learn from the information surrounding them at all times to display a correct emotion.


Cotton, J.L. (1981). A review of research of Schachter’s theory of emotion and the misattribution of arousal. European Journal of Social Psychology, 11(4) 365-397.

Kalat, J.W., & Shiota, M.N. (2007). Emotion. (pp 2-27). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Polivy, J., & Herman, P.C., & Warsh, S. (1978). Internal and external components of emotionality in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87(5) 497-504.

Truax, S.R. (1984). Determinants of emotion attributions: A unifying view. Movitation and Emotion, 8(1) 33-54.

Wells, C.R. (1998). The effect of time of day on emotionality. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 58(10-B) 5703

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