Theories of Emotion

  • Emotion is a complex, subjective experience that is accompanied by biological and behavioral changes.
  • Charles Darwin proposed that emotional expressions are hard-wired and that emotions evolved because they had adaptive value.
  • Current evolutionary theorists believe that emotions are innate.
  • The James-Lange theory states that people experience emotion because they perceive their bodies’ physiological responses to external events.
  • The Cannon-Bard theory states that the experience of emotion and the accompanying physiological arousal happen at the same time.
  • Schachter and Singer’stwo-factor theory states that people’s experience of emotion depends on physiological arousal and the cognitive interpretation of that arousal.
  • People’s experience of emotion depends on how they evaluate their environment.

The Biological Bases of Emotion

  • Emotion involves activation of the brain and the autonomic nervous system.
  • Information about emotion-evoking events moves along two pathways in the brain.
  • The pathway that goes to the amygdala allows people to respond rapidly to events.
  • The pathway that goes to the cortex allows people to appraise events more slowly.
  • Researchers use autonomic responses to measure emotion.
  • The polygraph, or lie detector, is a device that detects changes in autonomic arousal. It is often inaccurate in determining whether or not a person is lying.
  • Different emotions differ in pattern of brain activation, neurotransmitters released, and autonomic nervous system activity.

Expression of Emotion

  • People worldwide can identify six primary emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust.
  • The facial-feedback hypothesis states that the brain uses feedback from facial muscles to recognize emotions that are being experienced.
  • The two genders express different amounts of emotion. This difference depends on gender roles, culture, and context.

Emotion and Culture

  • People in different cultures can identify six basic emotions.
  • There are universal physiological indicators of emotion.
  • People in different cultures categorize emotions differently.
  • Different cultures consider different emotions to be primary.
  • The same situation may evoke different emotions in different cultures.
  • Nonverbal expressions of emotion differ across cultures.
  • Cultural norms determine how and when to display emotions that are not actually felt.


  • Subjective well-being depends more on attitudes toward circumstances than on the circumstances themselves.
  • Circumstances such as social support, marriage, job satisfaction, and religiosity are positively correlated with happiness.
  • Happiness tends to depend on people’s expectations of life and on the way they compare themselves to others.

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