Psychology began as a cognitive science, and problems of cognition have been at the forefront of psychological research and theory since the early 19th-century psychophysicists, such as Weber and Fechner, and the late-19th-century investigators of learning, such as Pavlov and Thorndike. As a result, we know a great deal about how cognitive processes operate. This understanding of cognition is the subject of the lectures on Learning, Sensation and Perception, Attention and Memory, and Thought and Language. It is also summarized in an overview of Cognitive Psychology.

              Trilogy of MindBut cognition isn't all there is to the mind. As noted in the Introduction, the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant asserted (in his Critique of Judgment, 1790, Introduction, Part 3) that:

"there are three irreducible faculties of mind: knowledge, feeling and desire. 

"Kant's three faculties of mind constitute what E.R. Hilgard, an eminent 20th-century American psychologist, called "the trilogy of mind":

  • cognition,
  • emotion, and
  • motivation.

Kant thought that the three faculties were irreducible -- meaning, for example, that the principles of emotion couldn't be derived from the principles of cognition, and vice-versa. However, since the resurgence of interest in emotion and human motivation in the 1960s, a number of cognitive and social psychologists have argued that our feelings and desires are cognitive constructions -- that is, that they have their origins in our perceptions and interpretations of events. Put bluntly: you don't really feel angry, and you don't want a hamburger; you just believe that you do.

Cognitive constructivism is one important element in the psychology of emotion and motivation, but there are reasons to suspect that it is not the whole story. There are many psychologists these days who believe that there are important aspects of affect and conation that are substantially independent of cognition. For example, they argue that the brain systems that mediate emotion are different from those that mediate cognition.

For this reason, it seems best not to foreclose the matter of the relation between cognition and emotion. In this supplement, and in the complementary one on motivation, we will explore both the ways feelings and desires are shaped by cognition, and the ways in which they might have an existence independent of knowledge.

As noted in the Introduction, this stance means that psychology cannot be just a cognitive science, concerned with problems of knowledge and belief.It must also be an affective science, concerning with problems of feeling and emotion. And it must also be a conative science, concerned with problems of motivation and desire.

However, and for reasons that are not entirely clear, the emotional and motivational aspects of mental life have received much less attention from psychologists than the cognitive ones. As a result, especially since the "cognitive revolution" of the 1960s, every psychology department in the country, if not the world, has a well-developed program of research and graduate training in cognitive psychology, cognitive science, or cognitive neuroscience. But emotion and motivation have gotten much less attention -- sometimes only a course or two. Similarly, there are many textbooks on cognitive psychology, but very few devoted to emotion and motivation.

This situation is starting to change. This supplement, and the accompanying one on motivation, are intended to provide an introduction to the psychology -- better put, the psychologies -- of emotion and motivation.

The Vocabulary of Emotion

The problem for the psychology of emotion can be stated simply:

Why do people feel the way they do -- happy, sad, guilty, proud, whatever?

Psychologists often explain people's behavior in terms of their feelings.

Defining Emotion

First, what do we mean by an emotion? How does it differ from a sensation, or a memory?

One common definition of emotion is as "brief, adaptive responses, involving physiological and cognitive reactions to objects, people, or situations" (Niedenthal et al., 2006). Another is as "A multicomponent response to a challenge or opportunity that is important to an individual's goals" (Oakley et al., 2006). But, frankly, neither definition will do, because they don't do anything to distinguish emotional states from other mental states.

It's better, in my view, to define an emotion as an internal mental state consisting of various subjective feelings of pleasantness or unpleasantness.

Psychologists often make further distinctions among affect, emotion, and mood.

  • Affect is generally pleasant or unpleasant.
  • Emotions are more defined types of pleasantness or unpleasantness, such as happiness or surprise, sadness or anger or fear.
    • They tend to be relatively high in intensity, accompanied by excitement and agitation.
    • They are typically accompanied by physical feelings (our hearts race, we smile and laugh, our face flushes). Think of an emotion as subjective feeling accompanied by physiological arousal, plus behavior that expresses or copes with the emotional feeling state.
    • Although there are exceptions, emotions tend to be about something: You're not just angry, you're angry because your girlfriend dumped you.
  • Moods are pervasive, global feelings, with relatively low intensity.

Some psychologists use these terms interchangeably, and these Lecture Supplements will do this as well. But there are technical distinctions among these affective states, and we shouldn't forget about them.

Dimensions of FeelingWilhelm Wundt, who was primarily interested in the structure of sensory experience, turned his attention to the problem of the structure of emotional experience as well. He argued that any emotional experience could be decomposed into three dimensions.

  • Pleasantness vs. unpleasantness: Is it a good feeling or a bad feeling?
  • Excitement vs. Calm.
  • Strain vs. Relaxation.

The dimensions of excitement-calm and strain-relaxation proved controversial, but everybody accepted the basic distinction between pleasant and unpleasant emotional states.

But Wundt was onto something: there's more to the experience of emotion than a simple matter of feeling good or bad.

Many explorations of the structure of emotional experience begin with the assumption that the important emotions have been encoded in language. A survey of the dictionary by James Averill, for example, found at least 500 different words that refer to affective states. Of course, there are some redundancies among these words, and some words are more central to emotional experience than others. This raises the question:which emotion terms are basic?

The Psychometric Approach

The psychometric approach to this question subjects a representative set of mood adjectives to statistical analysis by techniques such as factor analysis to determine the relationships among them.

The Affect CircumplexJames Russell proposed that we need two independent dimensions to account for the differences among the various emotional states.

  • The first of these, following Wundt's introspective analysis, was defined at the poles by positive vs. negative affect. Some emotional states are pleasant, others are unpleasant.
  • The second dimension was defined by high vs. low arousal, similar to Wundt's dimension of calm vs. excitement.

Russell further found that the various emotional states demonstrate what is called a circumplex structure. A circumplex is a circular arrangement of objects such that the angular distance between them represents the correlation between them. That is, objects that are close together on the circumplex are very similar to each other, or very likely to co-occur.

But as intuitively appealing as the Russell circumplex is, it's not the only possibility.

              Affect CircumplexWhen Watson and Tellegen performed the same sort of analysis, they also uncovered two orthogonal (independent) dimensions of affect, but they named them quite differently.

  • One dimension is defined by low vs. high positive affect.
  • The other dimension was defined by low vs. high negative affect.

Watson and Tellegen argued that affects were descriptively bipolar -- that is, positive vs. negative -- but affectively unipolar -- that is, they are more or less positive, and more or less negative. Only the high end of each dimension represents emotional arousal. The low end reflects the relative absence of affective involvement.

This is the kind of dispute that causes fistfights at professional meetings, and which the rest of the world probably looks at scornfully, like medieval debates over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But, in fact, the dispute is important.

Consider, for example, the problem of how emotional states are generated by the brain. Given the neuroscientific doctrine of modularity, we can hypothesize that there is a specific brain module, or system, for generating emotions -- and, in fact, there might be separate modules for generating each distinct emotion. This is very likely to be true, but we'll never find those modules unless we know what we're looking for. If positive and negative affect lie on separate dimensions, but we do our brain-imaging studies based on the assumption that they lie on opposite ends of a single dimension, we'll never find the neural substrates of emotional life.

Dimensions of FeelingThe fact of the matter is that The Watson-Tellegen and Russell circumplexes are pretty much the same. You can get the one simply by rotating the other by 45o. But there are reasons for preferring the Watson-Tellegen structure.

  • Pure measures of positive and negative affect are actually uncorrelated with each other -- even when subjects rate their feelings "at the present moment". So it's possible to have positive and negative feelings simultaneously -- which wouldn't be possible if they were polar opposites.
    • We'll see this situation again in the lectures on Psychological Development, where it turns out that masculinity and femininity -- which most people also view as polar opposites - -are actually independent of each other, so that an "androgynous" person can be high on both masculinity and femininity.
  • Researchers have uncovered functional dissociations between positive and negative affect -- that is, variables that affect levels of positive affect without also affecting negative affect, and vice-versa. This strongly suggests that positive and negative affect should be represented independently of each other.
    • For example, levels of negative affect are related to stress, poor coping responses, health complaints, and the frequency of unpleasant events. These variables are not related to levels of positive affect.
    • And, similarly, levels of positive affect are related to social activity and satisfaction, and the frequency of pleasant events. But these variables are not related to levels of negative affect.

The Linguistic Approach

An alternative, linguistic approach to this question is based on studies of categorization.

Schwartz and Shaver, based on the revisionist "probabilistic" approach to categorization, began -- as did the psychometric approach -- by extracting a representative list of emotion terms from the dictionary. They then asked a group of subjects simply to sort them into categories based on perceived similarity.

A statistical method called cluster analysis (which is related to factor analysis, except that it yields discrete clusters of objects rather than continuous dimensions) yielded five basic categories of emotion.

  • Love, including such terms as liking and passion.
  • Happiness, including such words as joy and ecstasy.
  • Anger, including such terms as frustration, rage, resentment, disgust, and envy.
  • Sadness, including such words as agony, grief, disappointment, guilt, loneliness, and pity.
  • Fear, including such words as alarm, fright, and anxiety.

Schwartz and Shaver also uncovered a sixth group,surprise, which they labeled a pre-emotion. They argued that surprise occurred in response to any violation of expectancy. Because surprise can be either positive or negative, they didn't label it as an emotion per se.

Schwartz and Shaver also collected narrative accounts of people emotional experiences (real or imaginary), and then coded these for spontaneous descriptions. Based on their results, they proposed that each emotional category was represented by a summary prototype that contained three different types of features:

  • Antecedents of the emotional state.
  • Responses to the emotional state (cognitive, somatic, behavioral).
  • Attempts to control the emotions (for negative emotions only).

The Multiple-Systems View of Emotion

Multiple-Systems View of EmotionAlthough we often think of our emotions as unified experiences, Peter Lang (1968) has proposed that every emotional state actually consists of three different components or systems.

  • The verbal-cognitive component is the subjective experience of emotion, labeled and described by language -- for example, the feeling of happiness or fear.
  • The overt motor component is the publicly observable expression of the emotional state -- such as smiling in the case of happiness, or escape or avoidance in the case of fear.
  • The covert physiological component is the internal physiological correlate of the emotional state, such as various signs of autonomic arousal in the case of fear.

Ordinarily, these three components vary together, especially when the emotion is fairly intense. But there are circumstances in which these components can be in a state of what Rachman and Hodgson called desynchrony. For example, a person might not feel fear, even though he or she may show signs of avoidance, or autonomic arousal.

Another multiple-systems view has been proposed by UCB's Robert Levenson, who distinguishes among three emotional functions:

  • Generation of emotion (including, presumably, the three components delineated by Lang).
  • Regulation of emotion, as when someone tries to control their facial expressions.
  • Recognition of emotional expressions in other people.

Setting aside the idea that each specific emotion -- fear, joy, anger, disgust, etc. -- might be mediated by a separate brain system, producing the characteristic patterns of physiological response that accompany each emotion, the implication of Levenson's theory is that each of these functions is also mediated by a different brain system.

Individual Differences in Emotion

We think of the various emotions as mental states, episodes in our conscious mental lives, but there are also individual differences in emotionality. Some people seem to be happier than others, while others seem to be more fearful. It may also be that some people are simply disposed to experience positive or negative emotions. In that case, we can think of emotion as a more or less stable trait, as well as a discrete mental state.

Clinical Assessment of Emotion

For example, clinical psychologists often use questionnaires for the assessment of their patients' typical emotional states, such as the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) , and the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale (MAS). The Hamilton Rating Scale of Depression (HAM-D) is frequently used to measure depression as a trait in clinical trials of antidepressant drugs.

As another example, the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) measures anxiety both as a state (subjects rate how anxious they are feeling right now, as they complete the questionnaire) and as a trait (subjects rate how anxious they feel in general).

Individual Differences in Emotionality

Based on their circumplex analysis of the structure of emotion, Watson and Tellegen created the Positive and Negative Affect Scales (PANAS) scales for the measurement of individual differences in emotionality. The PANAS consists of 10 mood adjectives for each scale. In a typical application, subjects rate (on a 1-4 scale) the frequency with which they have experienced each over a particular period of time. The time itself can vary from "right at the present moment" to "today, or over the past few days", "past few weeks", "past year", or "in general". Scores on the PANAS correlate highly with the two "superfactors" on the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ) a personality inventory, suggesting that positive and negative emotionality are core dimensions of individual differences in personality.

Another interesting dimension of emotionality is alexithymia, a term derived from the Greek meaning "no words for moods". Individuals who score high on alexithymia have a poor vocabulary for the expression of emotion, and an inability to distinguish among emotions. They may feel something, but they don't seem to know whether they feel bad or good, or whether they're angry or sad. They have low levels of emotional imagery, and little emotion in their fantasy lives. In terms of Lang's multi-component view of emotion, it seems like alexithymics are unable to connect two aspects of their emotional experience -- the visceral/somatic and the cognitive/evaluative -- a desynchrony between the verbal-cognitive and covert-physiological components of emotion. For these individuals, their emotional state is highly dependent on context.

Some clinical studies have suggested that alexithymia is a risk factor for certain psychophysiological disorders (to be discussed in the lectures on Psychopathology and Psychotherapy). But there is very little experimental literature on alexithymia to date.

Another clinically relevant dimension of emotionality is anhedonia, or the inability to experience positive emotion. Anhedonia is one of the classic symptoms of schizophrenia -- one of the "Four As", along with associative disturbance, ambivalence, and autism. But recent experimental studies suggest that anhedonia in schizophrenia may be misleading: schizophrenics may experience emotion, but just don't express it in their behavior. If so, that would count as another kind of desynchrony, this time between the verbal-cognitive and overt-motor components. Loren and Jean Chapman and their colleagues developed an Anhedonia Scale as part of their long-term attempt to identify individuals who are at risk for schizophrenia.

While anhedonia affects the experience or expression of positive emotions,repressive style is, essentially, the denial of negative emotion. Originally, repressive style was measured by Byrne's Repression-Sensitization Scale, but the R-SS turned out to be more of a measure of anxiety, or neuroticism, than of repression per se.

More recently, Weinberger and his colleagues (1979) proposed an alternative technique for the measurement of repressive tendencies, combining Taylor's MAS with the Marlow-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (SDS), which is a measure of defensiveness. Weinberger and his colleagues then divide the distributions of both scales at their medians, creating four groups of subjects:

  • True Low Anxious -- subjects with relatively low scores on both the MAS and the SDS.
  • True High Anxious -- subjects with relatively high scores on the MAS and relatively low scores on the SDS -- subjects who feel anxious and don't mind admitting it.
  • Probable Repressors -- subjects with relatively low scores on the MAS, but relatively high scores on the SDS, suggesting that they might be trying to hide their true level of anxiety.
  • Defensive High Anxious -- subjects with high levels of both anxiety and defensiveness.

You see the logic. Weinberger then attempted to validate his classification by showing that, for example, Repressors behaved like True High Anxious subjects on various experimental tasks.

Later Weinberger introduced a more refined instrument for the assessment of repressive tendencies, but the logic of the assessment remains the same.

Theories of Emotion

OK, so now we have a better idea of what emotion is, and what the structure of emotional life might look like. But what are emotions really? Where do they come from? How do they play a role in our mental and behavioral economy?

The first thing to be said, along the lines of the Doctrine of Mentalism, is that emotions help determine our behavior. When we're happy we smile; when we're angry we lash out; when we're afraid we tremble and sweat and escape and avoid. Our behavior is caused by our emotions just as our behavior is caused by our beliefs and desires. One of the reasons we want to know how emotions work is that we recognize the role that emotion plays in our behavior.

The James-Lange Theory

              James-Lange Theory of EmotionThat makes sense. But, in fact, one of the earliest theories of emotion actually reversed the direction of causality. In the late 19th century, William James, the famous American philosopher and psychologist, and Carl Lange, a famous Danish physician, physiologist, and psychologist, independently proposed that the actual situation was the reverse. For them, environmental events elicited some bodily response, and that our perception of these efferent activities is experienced as an emotion.

  • James, in his 1884 paper, focused on responses of the whole body, especially those involving the skeletal nervous system. In his formulation, we don't run from the bear because we're afraid; rather, we're afraid of the bear because we run.
  • Lange, in his 1885 paper, focused on visceral responses, especially those involving the autonomic nervous system. In his formulation, we don't shed tears because we're sad; we feel sad because we notice that we're shedding tears.

The theory is somewhat counterintuitive, because it reverses the usual direction of causation. Our emotions don't cause our bodily reaction to events; rather, our bodily reactions cause our emotions. Stated this way, the James-Lange theory appears to violate the Doctrine of Mentalism. On the other hand, perhaps appearances are deceiving. Except in the case of purely reflexive responses, there must be some initial perception and interpretation of the situation before we can respond to it. Perhaps, then our initial emotional state, resulting from our perception of the situation, influences our initial bodily response, and then feedback from our bodily response influences the intensity of our total emotional experience.

But let's set the issue of the temporal dynamics of emotion aside for now.

The big point, for now, is that regardless of whether it's James's focus on skeletal responses, or Lange's focus on visceral responses, the upshot of the James-Lange theory is that each emotional state is generated by, and thus correlated with, a specific pattern of nervous system activity.

Critique of the James-Lange TheoryAnd that's precisely where critiques of the James-Lange theory weighed in. Walter B. Cannon, a prominent American physiological psychologist, weighed in with a five-point critique of the James-Lange theory. Despite the vaunted position of William James in the status hierarchy of American psychologists (and world-wide, too, for that matter), Cannon's critique was widely considered to be devastating to the James-Lange position.

  1. Cannon noted, first, that paraplegics can still experience emotion, even though their spinal cord has been severed from their brains -- thereby effectively preventing them from getting feedback from their skeletal musculature and viscera.
  2. And, as a matter of empirical fact, different emotions, such as fear and anger, do not seem to be associated with different patterns of bodily reaction.
  3. Along the same lines, our perception of our visceral responses to stimulation are very diffuse and nonspecific.
  4. Moreover, autonomic responses, at least, recruit more slowly than do emotional responses -- thus making it difficult for autonomic responses to cause emotional states.
  5. Finally, experimental manipulation of autonomic responses -- speeding up or slowing down the heart rate, for example - -didn't seem to alter subjects' emotions.

Note that most of these criticisms apply more powerfully against Lange's version of the theory than James's. This is because James emphasized motor feedback, from the skeletal musculature. Cannon, a physiologist who identified the role of the autonomic nervous system in the "flight or fight", naturally focused on the ANS. Of course, the evidence from paraplegia weight against James as well as Lange, but it remained possible, at least in principle, that the feedback in question came from the facial musculature, which would be unaffected by spinal-cord injury. We will return to this point later, in a discussion of theories of emotion proposed by Silvan Tomkins, Paul Ekman, and others.

Remember, from the lectures on "The Biological Bases of Mind and Behavior", that the complete formulation of "flight or fight" is freeze, flight, or fight, tend and befriend.

Cannon's critique led to the formulation of a general arousal theory of emotion by Duffy (1934), Lindsley (1951), Woodworth and Schlossberg (1958), and others. According to this theory, emotional states reflect a single, undifferentiated state of physiological arousal; the apparently qualitative differences among the various emotions (anger, fear, etc.) actually reflect quantitative differences in intensity levels.

But this resolution didn't satisfy everyone -- not least because introspection made it evident that there were qualitative differences among emotional states that were independent of arousal. Where do these come from?

Cognitive Appraisal Theories

One popular approach, proposed by Stanley Schachter and Jerome L. Singer (1962), is that the different emotional states were cognitive constructions. Schachter and Singer agreed with Cannon, Duffy, and others that emotional stimuli elicits a state of physiological arousal that is both undifferentiated and unexplained. This state of arousal is then interpreted by the actor -- an interpretation that is shaped by information available in the current situational context. Qualitatively different emotional states, then, are produced by the cognitive evaluation of undifferentiated arousal. The implication of the theory is that unexplained arousal is affectively neutral.

Emotional StateSchachter and Singer supported this view with experimental evidence. In their study, they recruited subjects for an experiment on the effect of vitamins on task performance. The subjects were injected with a drug which they were told was a vitamin -- but which was really epinephrine, which increases physiological arousal. Some subjects were told about this side-effect of the drug, others were left uninformed. Half of the subjects in each group was then tested along with another subject, who was actually a confederate of the experimenter; the remaining subjects were tested alone. For some subjects, the confederate was instructed to behave in an angry manner, expressing hostility toward the experimenters, tearing up papers, and the like; for other subjects, the confederate was instructed to behave in a euphoric manner, giggling and playing with a hula-hoop. Then, among other tasks, the subjects provided ratings of their current mood. Among those subjects who were tested with the euphoric confederate, those who had been kept ignorant about the side-effects of the drug reported being in a more positive mood than those who were informed. Among those tested with the angry confederate, the ignorant subjects reported being in a less positive mood than the informed subjects. Thus, those subjects who had no other explanation for what they were feeling looked to their environment for clues: those who were in a euphoric environment felt happy, those who were in an angry environment did not.

The Schachter-Singer theory quickly became the conventional wisdom in social psychology. Which is interesting, because, if you look at the graph, the experimental evidence was pretty ambiguous. Still, the theory had some intuitive appeal, especially in the face of the apparent failure of alternative theories. And if you think about it, the Schachter-Singer theory actually is a variant on the James-Lange theory: we don't feel afraid because we perceive ourselves running from the bear, but because we perceive other people running from the bear; we don't feel sad because we notice that we're crying; we feel sad because we perceive that other people are crying.

The basic idea behind the Schachter-Singer theory was subsequently extended in a variety of ways, in a set of theories that all were predicated on the view that emotional states result from cognitive appraisals.


For example, Richard Lazarus (1966), a clinical psychologist, offered an alternative cognitive-appraisal theory that emerged from his practical interest in coping. From his point of view, emotions are not just things we experience. They are also experiences that we can cope with, and control, at least to some extent. Lazarus' view is linked to modern psychoanalytic theory, with its focus on stress, conflict, and other negative states. Freud argued that we attempted to cope with negative emotion by virtue of various defense mechanisms. Lazarus, on the other hand, argued that our coping strategies are largely conscious.

Lazarus began with the assumption that emotions, like the rest of life, have an adaptive function, which is to promote survival. Emotions supplement reflexes and physiological drives, in that they are less rigid: they have low stimulus specificity and high response flexibility. Virtually any stimulus can elicit virtually any emotion, depending on how it is appraised. And emotional appraisal concerns adaptive significance for the individual -- whether the stimulus is good or bad for one's own well being.Most important, Lazarus argued that emotions reflect the organism's appraisal of the environment in terms of harm and benefit, based on antecedent motives and beliefs.

Thus, for Lazarus, there are three elements in emotion:

  • cognitive appraisal;
  • action tendency; and
  • somatic reaction.

Lazarus further identified the stages of cognitive appraisal:

  • evaluation with respect to well-being;
  • evaluation with respect to coping resources;
  • evaluation with respect to cognitive and behavioral options;
  • and, finally, a re-appraisal after some response has been engaged.

And there are two types of appraisal with quite different sets of consequences:

  • Benign appraisal can lead to:
    • Automatic coping with the stimulus, without emotion;
    • Transformation of the threat into something positive;
    • Genuine positive emotions, including positive emotions that result from the mastery of danger.
  • Threat appraisal can lead to:
    • Negative emotion, followed by direct action to deal with the threat;
    • Benign re-appraisal.

Whether benign or threatening, appraisals of events are always in terms of the relationship between the person and his or her environment.A core relational theme summarizes the person's relationship to the environment in terms of cost and benefit.The person-environment relationship can be described either at a molar level (which provides an economical summary of the relationship) or at a molecular level (as in detailed questions and answers about the relationship. Regardless of the level, each core relational theme produces a distinct emotion.


Cognitive Theory of ArousalIf emotions reflect our appraisals of the circumstances under which we become aroused, then where does arousal come from? George Mandler (1975, 1984), a cognitive psychologist who (naturally) was an early and ardent advocate of the Schachter-Singer theory, distinguished between two broad positions on emotion.

  • What he called the fundamentalist position, rooted in Darwin, emphasized a small number of innate emotional responses that occur more or less reflexively (or, perhaps better, instinctually) in response to appropriate stimuli.
  • Counterposed to this was the constructivist position, rooted in William James, that proposes that there is a potentially infinite number of different emotional responses, depending on how the person perceives his or her bodily activity (the part emphasized by James and Lange) and the context in which it occurs (emphasized by Schachter and Singer).

Mandler's unique contribution to the development of cognitive appraisal theories of emotion was to focus on the arousal component. Recall that Schachter and Singer assumed that subjects experienced an undifferentiated state of physiological arousal, which they then interpreted in terms of the context in which it occurred. In the Schachter-Singer experiment, the arousal was induced artificially, by giving subjects an injection of epinephrine. But how do we get emotionally aroused in the real world outside the laboratory?

Mandler proposed that physiological arousal results from the occurrence of a perceptual/cognitive discrepancy: we become aroused whenever our expectations are violated, our intentions are frustrated, or our habitual behaviors disrupted. This state of arousal is, as in the Schachter-Singer theory, undifferentiated with respect to the stimulus situation. The arousal, in turn, elicits attentional activity, as the subject scans the environment to determine the cause of the discrepancy. Once the source has been determined, the arousal state is interpreted by the actor -- an interpretation that is shaped by the current situational context. Thus, our emotional states are doubly shaped by cognitive evaluations -- first, of the source of the discrepancy; and second, of the context in which arousal occurred.

Smith & Ellsworth

Cognitive-Appraisal Theory of EmotionBuilding on Lazarus' work, Craig Smith and Phoebe Ellsworth (1983) proposed a more elaborate cognitive-appraisal theory of emotion itself (Smith was a student of Lazarus' at Berkeley; Ellsworth began collaborating with Smith when she was a graduate student at Stanford). Like Lazarus, they placed great emphasis on the valuation component of emotion. They assumed that emotional experience is linked to the person's appraisal of the environment, and attempted to characterize the various appraisals that gave rise to particular emotions.

Note, that while assumed that emotional experience is related to one's appraisal of the environment, they did not assume that emotions were pure cognitive constructions. They admitted that, as in the James-Lange theory, there may be different patterns of bodily response associated with different emotions. But they focused their theory on the perceptions of bodily change, in context, in an attempt to capture the cognitive differences among various emotions.

In the original statement of their theory, Smith and Ellsworth (1985) argued that cognitive appraisal proceeded in terms of six different dimensions:

  • Pleasantness of the experience, an evaluative dimension that gives feelings their positive or negative valence.
  • Anticipated Effort -- whether the person must do something, or do nothing, in response to the emotion-eliciting event.
  • Certainty, or the predictability of the consequences of the event.
  • Attentional Activity, or the extent of cognitive focus on the event and its consequences.
  • Attributional Activity -- judgments of whether the event is under situational control (as opposed to being the result of human agency); and if the event is the product of human agency, whether the responsible agent is oneself or some other person.

To illustrate the application of this scheme to exemplar emotions, consider the distinction between happiness and pride:

  • Pleasantness: both states involve pleasant rather than unpleasant feelings.
  • Anticipated Effort: both involve relatively little cognitive effort.
  • Certainty: for both states, the consequences of the eliciting event are highly predictable.
  • Attentional Activity: both entail a strong desire to pay attention to the stimulus (not to mention the state!).
  • Attributional Activity: In pride, there is a clear attribution of human control, especially self-control (we take pride in things that people have done, and especially in things that we have done ourselves); in happiness, by contras, Smith and Ellsworth think that there is less attributional activity of any kind -- we just sit back and enjoy it.

Although emphasizing the importance of cognitive appraisals, Smith and Ellsworth do not assume that emotions are merely cognitive constructions. They allow that there might be different patterns of bodily response associated with the various emotions.

  • For example, facial expressions might be correlated with various components of emotion:
    • A frown, with unpleasantness or anticipated effort.
    • Raised eyebrows with attention to the environment.
    • Lowered eyelids might reflect an attempt to shut out the environment.
    • Raising or lowering the corners of the mouth might also be associated with pleasantness or unpleasantness.

In this way, patterns of facial expressions, associated with each emotion, would be predictable from the components of appraisal.

Similarly, autonomic activity might reflect anticipated effort (autonomic arousal).

Note that in these examples the physiological patterns reflect the person's appraisal of the situation. They may contribute to the emotional experience in some way, but they are effects of appraisal, not independent causes of the emotion. Moreover, facial expressions (at least) serve to communicate the individual's appraisal, and convey information about his emotional state to other people. Finally, the bodily activity may reflect the person's preparation for coping activity, rather than the emotion per se.

A more recent version of the theory, proposed by Smith and Lazarus (1990), distinguishes between two different kinds of appraisal.

  • Primary appraisal concerns the motivational relevance of the event being appraised. Does it involve one's personal goals and concerns?
    • If not, then there is no emotional response.
    • If it is congruent with goals and concerns, then the emotion is positive.
    • If it is incongruent, then the emotion is negative.
  • Secondary appraisal has to do with accountability: Who receives credit or blame for the harm or benefit that will result from the event? Secondary appraisal proceeds along several different dimensions.
    • The problem-focused coping potential has to do with the individual's ability to act directly on the situation -- to manage the situation so as to satisfy goals and concerns or avoid threat or harm.
    • The emotion-focused coping potential has to do with the individual's ability to regulate his or her emotional state, especially in the face of threat or harm.
    • Future expectancy has to do with the possibility of changing an unpleasant situation so as to make it motivationally congruent.

So, as in the original theory, there are different appraisal patterns for specific emotions, involving the core relational theme and the various components of primary and secondary appraisal, all of which are focused on the adaptive function of emotion. To illustrate, consider the patterns of appraisal associated with various emotional states.

  • Anger occurs when someone someone else is to blame for some negative outcome.
    • The event is motivationally relevant, but also motivationally incongruent.
    • Someone else is accountable, not oneself.
    • The adaptive goal is to remove the source of the harm, or to undo the harm that has been done.
  • Guilt occurs when oneself is to blame for some negative outcome.
    • The event is also motivationally relevant and incongruent.
    • Oneself is accountable.
    • The goal is to make reparations, and promote responsible behavior.
  • Fear and anxiety occur in response to ambiguous dangers and threats.
    • The event is motivationally relevant and incongruent.
    • Emotion-based coping potential is low or uncertain.
    • The goal is to avoid potential harm.
  • Sadness occurs in response to irrevocable loss.
    • The event is motivationally relevant and incongruent.
    • There is low problem-focused coping potential.
    • There is low future expectancy.
    • The goal is to get help and support, and to disengage from the loss.
  • Hope occurs when there is some possibility of success or amelioration of some threat or loss.
    • The event is motivationally relevant and incongruent.
    • There are high expectations for the future.
    • The goal is to sustain commitment and coping.
  • Challenge occurs in the context of optimism, or potential for success.
    • The event is motivationally relevant and incongruent.
    • Coping potential is high.
    • Future expectancy is high.
    • The goal is to sustain or motivate mastery.
  • Happiness occurs in the context of actual success.
    • The event is motivationally relevant and congruent.
    • The goal is to reward success.
  • Interest occurs when the event is personally relevant.
    • The event is motivationally relevant, but it may be congruent or incongruent.
    • The goal is to direct and sustain attention to the event.

Clore & Ortony

An alternative cognitive-appraisal theory of emotion was proposed by Clore and Ortony (1988), who focused on the antecedents of emotional state. They observed that different emotions arise in different situations, and that the events that trigger emotions occur in the context of different goal states.

Clore and Ortony began by trying to define emotions -- by distinguishing between emotional and non-emotional feelings. For this purpose, they devised six linguistic tests. For example, they asked subjects to fit each candidate term into various sentence frames, such as Jane felt _____ or Although at that moment Jane was _____, she was emotionally content. Note that while a non-emotion word like bored fits both frames (you can be both bored and content), an emotion word like embarrassed does not.

On the basis of their linguistic tests, Clore and Ortony divided the lexicon of affective states into 6 categories:

  • Responses to Other-Actions such as appreciated, and neglected.
  • Body-States such as drowsy and tired.
  • Cognitive States such as bored and interested.
  • Pure Traits such as superstitious and materialistic.
  • Pure Emotions such as embarrassed and jubilant.
  • Trait Emotion Hybrids such as anxious and proud.

Next, Clore and Ortony attempted to determine the role of cognition in each emotional state. Beginning with the assumption and cognition and emotion are closely related.

  • In the first place, they argued that emotions arise from a person's appraisal of the motivational relevance of events to his or her plans and goals.
  • And in the second place, emotions reflect the cognitive value of that goal - -that is, the proximity of the relevant goal to the person's highest-level goals; the number of goals that are affected by the event; and whether the event facilitates or interferes with the goal.

Thus, distinct emotions are determined by the different ways that events and goals can be related.

Accordingly, they grouped emotional states into five different categories, depending on the goal state, triggering conditions, and determinants of intensity.

  • Hedonic group: Some emotions, both positive and negative, are experienced as one is making progress toward, or moving away from, one's goals.
    • Emotions in the hedonic group further involve a focus either on the emotional state, or on the goal object.
    • Examples of hedonic emotions include pleased, and displeased, as well as pleased-with and displeased-with.
  • State Anticipation group: These emotions involve the expectation of positive or negative outcomes -- plus, just to complicate things, when an outcome is unanticipated.
    • and also whether the realized state is positive or negative.
    • Examples include disappointment, hope, satisfaction, shock, surprise, worst fears confirmed, fear, and relief.
  • Quality of Action group: These emotions depend on whether the valence of action is positive or negative,
    • and also on the identity of the human agent: self vs. other as agent, and self as actor vs. other as experiencer of the outcome.
    • Examples include pride, anger at self, admiration, contempt, gratitude, and anger.
  • Standards group: These emotions depend on whether the actor is the self or some other person, whether the standard of evaluation is public or private, and whether the person exceeds some standard, or violates it. Examples of emotions associated with exceeding standards are pride and admiration.
    •  Examples of emotions associated with violating standards are unease, shame, remorse, embarrassment, indignation, contempt, anger ,guilt, disgust with self, revulsion, and disgust.
  • Loss group: These emotions occur when the self is the experiencer of the loss of a concrete or abstract object; they also occur when some other person experiences loss, and differ depending on whether the self or other is the actor responsible for the loss.
    • The loss of a concrete object can be permanent or impermanent, and the object lost can either be another person, or some impersonal object.
    • The lost abstract object can be the esteem of others, self-esteem, choice or opportunity, or a skill.
    • Examples include 
      • pity (when the other is both the actor and the experiencer);
      • shame (when the self is the actor and the other is the experiencer);
      • grief (in response to the permanent loss of a specific other person);
      • pining (in response to the temporary loss of a specific other person);
      • homesickness (from the temporary loss of an impersonal object ;
      • feeling betrayed results from the loss of others' esteem;
      • and shame results from the loss of self-esteem.

To see how this framework works, consider the emotion of happiness:

  • There is a focus on events rather than on agents or objects.
    • If we change the focus to the agent, we no longer feel happiness: rather, we feel something like approval.
    • If we change the focus to the object, we no longer feel approval, but rather something like liking.
  • Happiness is elicited by desirable rather than undesirable events (obviously).
    • If we change the event to undesirable, we no longer feel happy, but rather feel unhappy.
  • In any case, the intensity of our emotional state increases with the desirability or undesirability of the eliciting event.

In a further development of their theory, Clore and Ortony (1990) described three components of the phenomenal experience of emotion:

  • The cognitive/interpretive component involves construing an event in terms of the person's goals and aspirations, standards and values, and tastes and attitudes.
  • The motivational/behavioral component includes the desires and behaviors resulting from this construal.
  • The physiological component reflects both of the other components.

They also argued that the three different bases for construal yielded three, not five, major classes of emotions:

  • Goal-based emotions are based on the desirability of events.
    • Positive examples include relief and happiness.
    • Negative examples include unhappiness, depression, frustration and disappointment.
  • Standard-based emotions are based on the approval of one's actions.
    • Positive examples include pride and admiration.
    • Negative examples include anger, embarrassment, and disenchantment.
  • Attitude-based emotions are based on one's liking of objects.
    • Positive examples include liking.
    • Negative examples include disliking.
  • In addition, there may be compounds of goal- and standard-based emotions, that depend on both the action of some agent and the associated event.

Johnson-Laird and Oatley

Yet another cognitive theory of emotion was proposed by Johnson-Laird and Oatley (1987, 1988, 1989), two cognitive scientists. It's an interesting theory, but by now you've got a good sense of what cognitive theories of emotion look like, and that's all that matters.

Facial Expressions of Emotion

Cognitive-evaluation theories dominated research on emotion in the 1960s and 1970s, but came to be challenged by a resurgent psychobiological view.

To some extent, this turn of affairs was stimulated by a reconsideration of the role of the face in emotion. Recall that one of Cannon's criticisms of the James-Lange theory was that paraplegic individuals, who could receive no afferent impulses from their skeletal musculature, could nonetheless experience emotions. That seemed to rule out James's emphasis on the perception of muscular activity. Lange's emphasis on the perception of visceral activity, moreover, was ruled out by Cannon's other critical points. But Cannon's critique left open the role of the facial musculature.

  • We express our emotional responses on the face.
  • Feedback from the facial musculature is mediated by cranial nerves that do not feed through the spinal cord.
  • Therefore, James might be right after all, provided that what is perceived is the activity of our facial muscles.

James-Lange Redux: The Facial-Feedback HypothesisIn fact, a formal facial-feedback hypothesis of emotion was offered by Schlossberg (1952), and more prominently by Silvan Tomkins (1962). Tomkins argued that facial expressions of emotion could be classified along three dimensions:

  • Pleasantness vs. Unpleasantness;
  • Rejection vs. Attention;
  • Activation vs. Tension Relaxation.

Tomkins proposed that there were certain primary emotions triggered by innate neural programs -- and thus do not require any particularly "cognitive" appraisal. In his view, certain classes of environmental stimuli automatically activated these innate neural programs, which generated a display of emotion on the face. This display served primarily to communicate one's emotional state to other people. But Tomkins also proposed, in line with the James-Lange theory (or at least James's version of it) that feedback from the facial expression generated the subjective experience of emotion.

              Expressions of EmotionTomkins' theory, in turn, was based on research on the evolution of emotional expression -- a topic that began with one of Charles Darwin's last works, The Expression of the Emotions in Men and Animals(1872). In this book, as its title implies, Darwin documented a number of similarities between the expression of emotion in humans, and in non-human animals -- particularly, though not exclusively mammals. Nonhuman animals, of course, do not have the ability to express their emotional states through language. They have to do it through facial expressions and other bodily gestures, posture, and gait. Humans have a capacity for verbal language, of course, but in Darwin's view we retained a capacity for nonverbal communication of our emotional states, as part of our evolutionary heritage.

Note that Darwin discussed evolutionary continuities in the nonverbal expression of emotion. The implication is that the emotional response came first, and then it was expressed on the face and elsewhere. This is the standard view of emotion, and consistent with the Doctrine of Mentalism. Tomkins added the idea that feedback from the face could generate, or at least amplify, the emotional state itself. To some extent this reverses the direction of causality, consistent with the James-Lange theory.

Basic EmotionsPaul Ekman, a student of Tomkins, picked up on Darwin's arguments concerning evolutionary continuity. He proposed that there are certain basic emotions that are part of our evolutionary heritage and, thus, shared with other primates, mammals, and even some non-mammalian species. Precisely because they are part of our evolutionary heritage, Ekman argued that these basic emotions are universal across cultures -- everybody has them, whether they're Germans or Japanese, Canadian or Zulu, and everybody expresses them the same way on the face, and everybody recognizes these facial expressions.

Ekman's list of basic emotions varies a little from account to account, but these six remain constant:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Surprise
  • Disgust

Of course, we can feel a lot more different emotions than that. Ekman's theory proposes that these other emotions arise as blends of basic emotions. Or, perhaps, there are specifically human emotions, not shared with other primates, that are generated by processes other than the universal, innate, hard-wired processes that automatically generate the basic emotions.

Pixar Studios drew on Ekman's work in constructing the characters of their 2015 movie, Inside Out.  In the film, Riley, an 11-year-old girl, moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco.  Most of the movie takes place inside Riley's mind, and especially the interactions among five emotions -- Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness.  The depictions of these emotions are, in turn, based on instantly and universally recognizable facial expressions of emotion. 

Link to a UCB Press release about the involvement of Prof. Dacher Keltner in the production of Inside Out.

Link to a New York Times article about the depiction of Riley's memories as "islands" in her mind.

Link to a New York Times article by Keltner and Ekman, concerning "The Science Behind Inside Out"

Vascular Theory of Emotional EfferenceWhile it's possible to argue, as Tomkins did, that feedback from the facial musculature (or, alternatively, the perception of facial action) creates the subjective experience of emotion, Robert Zajonc proposed a rather different mechanism in his vascular theory of emotional efference. According to Zajonc, the actions of the facial musculature affect breathing patterns, and the flow of air through the nasal cavity, and particularly through a structure known as the cavernous sinus. Changes in airflow result in changes in brain temperature, which in turn alters neurotransmitter activity, which in turn affects hedonic tone. Put simply:

  • Increasing brain temperature increases positive mood.
  • Decreasing brain temperature increases negative mood.

Perceptual-Motor Theory of EmotionHoward Leventhal, another student of Tomkins', has incorporated facial activity into his perceptual-motor theory of emotion. According to Leventhal, emotion involves three separate systems.

  • The expressive-motor processing system generates subjective feelings of emotion, and also expressive reactions on the face and elsewhere.
  • Schematic/perceptual memory encodes emotional episodes in memory. But it also records the procedures that permit the rapid evaluation of environmental events, and the automatic activation of facial expressions and other emotional behaviors.
  • A conceptual/abstract memory contains "semantic" knowledge about emotion, as well as nonverbal "procedural" knowledge required for the recognition and enactment of emotional expressions.

Affective Neuroscience

An alternative psychobiological approach to emotion has its roots in neuroscience rather than in evolutionary theory. Just like cognitive neuroscience, affective neuroscience is grounded in the general neuroscientific Doctrine of Modularity -- the idea that different parts of the brain are involved in different mental functions. Whereas cognitive neuroscience tries to identify the brain structures and systems that mediate cognitive functions such as perception, memory, and language, affective neuroscience tries to identify the brain structures and systems that mediate affective, or emotional, functions such as experiencing, perceiving, and expression emotional feeling states. A further implication of the Doctrine of Modularity is that there are separate brain structures or systems regulating each of the basic emotions, but for a number of reasons until recently almost all affective neuroscience has focused on fear.

Walter Cannon's critique of the James-Lange theory led him and others (like Duffy) to think of emotion as entailing an undifferentiated state of autonomic arousal. What generates autonomic arousal? Why, the hypothalamus, of course. Thus, Cannon and his student, Philip Bard, proposed a hypothalamic theory of emotion. As its name implies, the theory proposes that emotional state (remember, according to Cannon, there's just one emotional state, associated with flight or fight) is generated by the hypothalamus. Discharges from the hypothalamus to the brainstem, and thus down the spinal cord (and, for that matter, out onto the face) are responsible for emotional behavior, while discharges from the hypothalamus to the cerebral cortex are responsible for emotional experience.

Papez' CircuitThe Cannon-Bard theory was subsequently revised by James Papez, a neuroanatomist who traced the connections between the hypothalamus and other structures in the subcortical "limbic lobe" of the brain. According to Papez, emotion involves not just the hypothalamus but rather an entire circuit of structures, including the hypothalamus, the anterior portion of the thalamus, the anterior portion of the cingulate gyrus, and the hippocampus. This set of structures is now known as Papez' circuit. According to Papez' theory, emotion is not generated solely by the hypothalamus, but rather by the coordinated activity of a number of subcortical structures, each performing its own special function:

  • The thalamus, acting as s sensory relay station, processes information from the emotional stimulus.
  • The hypothalamus generates the bodily response to the emotional stimulus -- much as in the Cannon-Bard theory.
  • The cingulate cortex generates the subjective feeling state.

Note, the name "Papez" may look Spanish, but James Papez (1883-1958) was actually an American of Czech descent, trained at the University of Minnesota, and taught at Cornell. I have heard every imaginable pronunciation of his name, including Papeth. But I have it on good authority (confirmed by someone else named James Papez) that the proper pronunciation is Payps (long a, one syllable).

The Limbic
              System and the Visceral BrainPaul MacLean extended the general idea of Papez' circuit (he also gave Papez' circuit its name) to other structures in what Paul Broca called le lobe limbique, because they form a border (L. limbus) around the brainstem. MacLean gave the name limbic system to this entire set of structures, including the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and parts of the basal ganglia), and proposed that what he now called limbic system comprised the "old mammalian brain" is the neural basis of emotion.

You'll remember MacLean's concept of the triune brain from the lectures on the Biological Bases of Mind and Behavior. He argued that evolution had actually given humans a set of three brains, built one on top of the other.

  • At the bottom is the R-Complex, or "Reptilian Brain", consisting of the brain stem and the cerebellum, which regulates vital functions and simple motor behaviors.
  • At the top is the neocortex, the "new brain".
  • In the middle is the limbic system, or "Old Mammalian brain" consisting of the amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and other structures of the limbic lobe.

Brain System in FearMost recently, Joseph LeDoux and his colleagues have proposed that a particular brain system serves as the neural basis of fear. LeDoux's theory looks a lot like Papez's, frankly, except that it is a little more elaborated, taking into account Lang's multiple-system view of emotion. Most important, it is supported by a large number of behavioral experiments involving animals, brain-damaged patients, and brain-imaging studies of neurologically intact normal subjects.

  • An emotional event is first processed through the thalamus, performing its usual function as a sensory relay station.
  • Signals from the thalamus project to the amygdala, which generates both the behavioral and physiological responses to the emotional stimulus.
  • Signals from both the thalamus and the amygdala project to the cerebral cortex, which generates the subjective experience of emotion.

Thus, LeDoux's model provides the physiological basis for various desynchronies in emotional behavior:

  • For example, if the connection between the thalamus and the amygdala is broken, the subject will experience fear subjectively, but will not show any of the behavioral or physiological signs of fear (because these are generated by the amygdala, which isn't receiving any signals from the thalamus.
  • Or, to take another example, if the connection is severed between the thalamus and the cortex, the subject will show the behavioral and physiological signs of fear, but will not have any subjective experience of fear.

Note that if the thalamus is damaged, the subject wouldn't show any signs, or have any experience of fear. That might lead investigators to conclude that the thalamus is the neural basis of fear. But, in this instance, presumably the subject would show other behavioral deficits as well, not just those involving fear, because the thalamus would not be able to perform any of its normal sensory-relay functions. In fact, the subject would be comatose, completely unresponsive to events in the environment, whether fearful or not; and unconscious; but he would still be alive, with vegetative functions performed by an intact brainstem.

LeDoux has worked out the brain systems for fear in some detail, and his theory is widely accepted. But he's only worked out the details for fear. The implication of his theory is that a similar account can be given for other basic emotions, such as happiness, anger, and disgust.

              Modularity of EmotionIn fact, affective neuroscientists, working (as LeDoux has done) with animal models, brain-damaged patients, and brain-imaging methods, have now begun to identify the brain structures involved in other emotions, not just fear.

  • As suggested by LeDoux (and MacLean), the amygdala appears to play a special role in fear, and is critical for fear conditioning, and escape and avoidance learning.
  • The orbitofrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate gyrus, appears to mediate response to social violations, and may be the neural substrate of anger.
  • The temporal pole of the right hemisphere seems to be associated with sadness and other negative emotions, and is implicated in withdrawal responses.
  • The anterior portion of the insula (nicely located near the olfactory lobe), as well as the anterior cingulate gyrus, seems to be associated with feelings of disgust.

There also appears to be some hemispheric specialization for emotion.  Based on electrophysiological and brain-imaging studies, Davidson (1992) has proposed that approach-related positive emotions are mediated by the frontal and anterior temporal regions of the left hemisphere, while withdrawal-related negative emotions are mediated by the same regions of the right hemisphere.  

A somewhat humorous illustration of Davidson's theory comes from a study of tail-wagging behavior in dogs reported by by Vallortigara et al. (Current Biology, 2013).  Dogs watching a video of another dog wagging its tail to the left showed physiological and behavioral signs of stress and anxiety -- but no such signs when watching a video of a dog wagging its tail to the left.  Like left-handedness in people, left-tail-wagging in dogs is controlled by the right hemisphere.  Therefore, the researchers suggest, tail-wagging to the left (sinistral tail-wagging: get it?) is generated by the right hemisphere, which is specialized for negative emotion; and other dogs can use the direction of tail-wagging as an emotional cue.  At any rate, the findings suggest some degree of lateral specialization in dogs, as well as humans.  

All of this is pretty preliminary, and there are lots of details left to be worked out, but these findings indicate how the Doctrine of Modularity might be implemented in the emotional domain.

Physiological Correlates of Emotion

Emotions are mental states, but ever since James and Lange, and in response to Cannon's critique, psychologists and physiologists have searched for definitive physiological correlates of emotion.  Many of these have been proposed -- perhaps most famously, Ekman's proposal that each of the half-dozen-or so basic emotions is associated with distinctive activity in the facial musculature.  However, this view remains controversial.  Lisa Feldman Barrett, a distinguished emotion researcher, has reviewed the evidence and found that there are no "unique, biological 'fingerprints'" of any emotional state (for a brief summary, see "What Emotions Are (And Aren't)", New York Times, 08/02/2015, from which the quote is drawn).

Barrett concludes that happiness, fear, and other emotional states vary widely in their biological correlates.  The different emotions are created by the context in which these biological states occur -- a position that is close to the cognitive-constructive view of Schachter and Singer, Lazarus, and others.

The Embodied Mind

Recall, from the first lecture, that Rene Descartes, the 17th-century French philosopher, had argued for a strict separation of body and mind.  His argument was so influential that it retarded the development of psychology as a science.  And even after psychology became a full-fledged science, most researchers assumed that mental life could be understood without reference to the body – that they could create an abstract “amodal architecture” of the mind.  To the contrary, the emotion theories of Tomkins, Ekman, Leventhal, and others make a case for the embodiment of mind.  By this we mean that mental representations and processes – the very stuff that psychology tries to understand – are grounded in their physical context.  This physical context includes both the physical situation and, especially, the physical body.  Embodiment affects cognitive processes such as perception, memory, and language, too, but it is especially prominent in the case of emotion.  To a great extent, our emotions are derived from our perceptions of our bodily processes, and they are expressed in bodily form by facial expressions, posture, and other gestures.

Jokes and Humor

And The Funniest Joke in the Whole World, Ever

One of the persisting puzzles in the psychology of emotion is why we find some things funny and others not (another puzzle is why we can't tickle ourselves). Put another way, why do we laugh? Psychologists will study anything, and wherever two or three psychologists study the same thing they form a society devoted to the subject, so there is also an International Society for Humor Studies and HUMOR: The International Journal of Humor Research.

Theories of humor have been proposed since Aristotle, and most of them capture only a small part of the action.

  • Aristotle, Plato, and the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes favored what is known as superiority theory -- that we laugh when we appreciate our superiority to the object of the joke. This helps explain why, when someone takes a pratfall, our first impulse is often to laugh. As Mel Brooks once put it: "tragedy is if I cut my finger. comedy is if you walk into an open sewer and die".
  • Sigmund Freud, for his part, proposed (in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905) release theory, that jokes somehow make contact with unconscious sources of pleasure, by expressing taboo wishes having to do with sex and aggression. Along these lines, Dave Barry, the American humorist, has suggested that aggression, sexuality, and offensiveness are the "three building-blocks of humor".
  • Henri Bergson, the French psychologist, proposed machine theory, that we laugh at the inflexibility of other people.
  • Recently, even neuroscience has gotten into the act. Although the right hemisphere is sometimes characterized as "emotional", in contrast to the "rational" left hemisphere, humor probably requires the integrated activity of both hemispheres. It has been suggested, perhaps somewhat facetiously, that the left hemisphere sets up the joke, while the right hemisphere gets it. A 1981 paper by Wapner, Hamby, and Gardner, proposed that "While the left hemisphere might appreciate some of Grouch's puns, and the right hemisphere might be entertained by the antics of Harpo, only the two hemispheres united can appreciate a whole Marx Brothers routine".
  • Perhaps the most popular theory of humor, incongruity theory, was initially proposed by Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French philosopher. As he wrote, "Nothing produces laughter more than a surprising disproportion between that which one expects and that which one sees. Incongruity theory explains the humor we find in puns and plays on words. Punch lines are often incongruous with setups. Leo McCarey, the producer of many Hollywood comedies, including some starring Laurel and Hardy, proposed that comedy relies on a "rule of three": a running gag will set an example, repeat it, and then shatter it. The first two examples set up an expectation, which is violated by the gag itself. If the gag is repeated, it's not as funny as it was the first time, but it will become funny again if there are two straightforward setups.
  • Of course, context matters too -- it helps if you know that a joke is a joke. W.F. Fry and Gregory Bateson, two anthropologists, have argued that jokes work only within a play frame established by a setup or metacue that a joke is coming.

Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, in England, runs a "LaughLab" website (www.LaughLab.co.uk) that, among other things, searched for the world's funniest joke. Visitors to the website submitted jokes for consideration, and were also given the opportunity to rate a sample of jokes on a 5-point scale called a Giggleometer. This technique is not entirely foolproof. Dave Barry once asked readers of his syndicated newspaper column to send in jokes featuring the punchline, "There's a weasel chomping on my privates", and to give other weasel-chomping jokes high ratings. And, perhaps because LaughLab was a government project, Wiseman and his colleagues filtered out jokes with sexual, scatological, racist, violent, or other offensive content, and bowdlerized ethnic jokes (see below). Still, Wiseman and his colleagues obtained some findings that make sense -- for example, that the presence of a duck makes a joke funnier than any other animal.

For a long time, the world's funniest joke went something like this:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were went camping and pitched their tent in a clearing. During the night, Holmes awakened Watson: "Watson! Look up! What do you see?" Watson replied, "Why, Holmes, I see the moon and the stars". "And what do you conclude from this, Watson?", Holmes said. "That the weather will be fair tomorrow", Watson replied. "No Watson, you idiot!" Holmes screamed. "Somebody stole our tent!"

In October 2002, however, Wiseman and his colleagues finally identified the absolutely funniest joke in the world, which goes like this (as reported in "What's So Funny", by Tad Friend, New Yorker, 11/11/02, from which some of this section is derived):

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator, in a calm soothing voice, says, "just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a moment of silence, then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. he says, "OK, now what?".

Mary Beard, a classicist, summarizes three broad classes of theories concerning of laughter (in Laughter in ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up, 2014):

  • Superiority theory holds that laughter is a form of mockery.
  • Incongruity theory, laughter is a response to illogical or unexpected events.
  • Relief theory views laughter as a release from pent-up emotion.

Beard points out that while primates are sometimes observed to laugh, in fact there are differences:

  • Humans laugh in a single exhalation: hahaha!
  • Primates' laughter is more panting, with each exhalatory ha! followed by an inhalation.

Still, the whole thing is pretty much a mystery.

Further reading:

  • For a classic study of humor, see Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious by Sigmund Freud (1905) -- which is, thankfully, mostly free of psychoanalytic nonsense.
  • For a more recent summary of the scientific research on humor, see The Humor Code: A Globa Search for What Makes Things Funny (2014) by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner

Cognitive Effects on Emotion

This course is agnostic with respect to the Kantian assertion that cognition and emotion, knowledge and feeling, are independent faculties of mind. While some cognitive and social psychologists, following the lead of Schachter and Singer, offered theories of emotion as a cognitive construction, other psychologists, largely influenced by the neuroscientific Doctrine of Modularity, argued that emotion was, at least in some respects, independent of cognition.

For organizational purposes, these lectures have assumed, with Kant, that emotion is at least to some extent independent of cognition -- that is, that at least some emotions are somehow basic, irreducible features of mental life. This might not actually be true (though I think it is) -- though behaving as if it is true provides ample justification for giving emotion (and motivation, for that matter) some treatment in the course separate from cognition.

But that doesn't mean that emotion and cognition are wholly independent of each other. Even if emotions are not cognitive constructions, it is clear that changing how we perceive, remember, and think about events changes our emotional reaction to them. And remembering one event (or one aspect of an event) as opposed to another will change our mood.

Mood-Induction Techniques

As an example of the effect of cognition on emotion, consider the Velten Mood-Induction Technique, commonly used in early studies of emotion.

Emotional Self-Regulation

It is also clear from the literature on emotional self-regulation that we can control our emotional responses to various events -- and that we do so largely through cognitive transformations of various kinds.

Richard Lazarus (1966), a clinical psychologist, focused on the role of cognitive processes in the self-regulation of emotion. Basically, he argued that we could change our emotional reaction to an event by changing the way we perceive or categorize that event. As with Schachter and Singer, then, emotion is viewed as an consequent of cognitive activity.

Although Lazarus proposed a general cognitive-appraisal theory of emotion, his own research focused on stress and coping in medical contexts. Here, he argued, problem-focused coping is not always possible: you've got a disease, the procedures involved in diagnosis and treatment may be unpleasant, and the outcome may not be good, and all of that is more or less out of the patient's hands. Accordingly, for medical patients, the best approach is emotion-focused coping processes, which attempt to regulate the patient's emotional response to illness and its treatment.

To give you an idea of what Lazarus had in mind, let me provide a personal anecdote. There came a time in my life when, as a consequence of a poorly done filling, my dentist told me I should have a root canal. Now, even with lots of anesthetics a root canal is a fairly unpleasant procedure. But as we discussed it, he made clear that, so far as dentists were concerned, root canals were the greatest thing since sliced bread, because, as he put it, "We can now save teeth!". Before the root canal, all dentists could do in such situations was to extract the diseased tooth, which creates other problems down the road. This information changed my view of root canals, and my emotional state both before and during the procedure, dramatically. And when, later, I had to have another root canal, it didn't faze me a bit. Changing the way I perceived the procedure changed my emotional reaction to it.

Emotional Effects on Cognition

And just as cognition can have an effect on emotion, so emotion can have an effect on cognition. That is, the way we are feeling can influence what we perceive, and think, and remember.

Emotion and Memory

Most of early research on emotion-cognition interactions focused on memory. Research has identified a number of emotional influences on what, and how, we remember the past. These influences come in two broad categories:

  • Effects of the subject's mood state at the time of encoding or retrieving a memory.
  • Effects of the emotional valence of the material being encoded or retrieved.

Mood-Dependent MemoryPerhaps the most dramatic of effect of emotion on memory is mood-dependent memory (MDM), already discussed in the lectures on Memory as an example of context-dependent memory and the Encoding Specificity Principle. Memory is better when the mood of the subject at the time of retrieval matches his or her mood at the time of encoding. Put another way, memory is better when both encoding and retrieval take place in the same emotional mood state, compared to different mood states. In principle, MDM is independent of the emotional valence of the items being encoded and retrieved. In the classic case, MDM occurs for affectively neutral items.

MDM is hard to get in the laboratory, but it has been clearly documented by Eich and Metcalfe (see the Lecture Supplement on 'Memory").

There is also an affective valence effect,where memory is better for material that has a positive emotional valence, compared to neutral or negative items.

Boucher and Osgood (1969) labeled the emotional valence effect the Pollyanna Principle, after the title character in a series of classic children's books by Eleanor H. Porter. Pollyanna Whittier, an orphan, gets through girlhood by playing the "glad game", always looking on the sunny side of life, and always thinking the best of other people. Pollyanna optimism is challenged when, as a result of a traffic accident, she loses both her legs.Spoiler alert: But still, she resolves to be glad that she once had legs, and her positive outlook carries her through her time at a rehabilitation hospital, where she learns to walk again. Matlin and Stang (1978) presented a host of evidence that the Pollyanna Principle influences every aspect of cognition.

The emotional valence effect is not to be confused with the Freudian concept of repression. Freud viewed repression as something that happened to material related to primitive sexual and aggressive motives that conflict with social strictures. David Rapaport, an important post-Freudian psychoanalytic theorist, was always at pains to emphasize that repression did not occur for material that was "merely unpleasant". But that's precisely what the emotional valence effect is: a general tendency to forget items that are "merely unpleasant" and disagreeable.

Affective Intensity EffectInterestingly, there is also support for an affective intensity effect, such that memory is generally better for material that carries some affective valence, whether positive or negative, compared to neutral material.

The affective intensity effect is a special case of the Von Restorff Effect (von Restorff, 1933), which refers to the fact that memory tends to favor salient events -- the more an event stands out against its background, the better it will be remembered. And the idea is that affective valence increases salience.

              Affective Intensity and Affective ValenceOf course, if you think about it, there's something of a contradiction between the affective valence effect and the affective intensity effect. The affective valence effect implies that negatively toned material will be poorly remembered, compared to neutral material, while the affective intensity effect implies that it will be better remembered. The apparent contradiction can be resolved by suggesting that there is actually a J-shaped function relating affective valence and memory. The J-function occurs, in this argument, because some affective intensity is better than none, even if it's negative, and this boosts the memorability of negative items; or, to put it another way, the affective valence effect suppresses the memorability of negative items somewhat, but they still get some advantage of affective intensity.

There's actually a fair amount of evidence for this J-shaped function relating emotional valence and memory, but Banaji and Hardin (1994) pointed out a subtle problem. They argued that, on average, positive events are more arousing than negative events. That is to say, for most of us anyway, the good things that happen to us are really good, and the bad things that happen to us aren't so bad. Not to mention that most of us experience more good things than bad things. They further argued that when you control for differential intensity, the affective valence effect disappears. That is, negative events are no less memorable than positive events, provided that they're equivalent in intensity. So there's still an open question: Whether there is an affective valence effect independent of affect intensity.

In principle, anyway, the affective intensity effect is independent of affective valence -- that is, it occurs regardless of whether the items are positively or negatively toned. That raises the question of the effects of general physiological arousal on memory. That is, what is the effect of the subject's state of physiological arousal on memory, regardless of whether she feels bad or feels good?

Yerkes-Dodson LawIn fact, research on arousal and task performance yielded one of the earliest psychological "laws": the Yerkes-Dodson Law. Announced in 1908, it's not as old as Weber's Law or Fechner's Law, but still pretty old. Yerkes and Dodson proposed that arousal was related to task performance (any task) by an inverted U-shaped function. That is, for any task there is some intermediate level of arousal which optimizes performance. Think of this as like Aristotle's "happy medium" (in the Eudemian Ethics) or "Golden Mean" (in the Nicomachean Ethics) -- not to mention the fairy tale of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears").

  • At lower levels of arousal, performance is poor because no behavior is activated (in the extreme case, the subject is fatigued, drowsy, asleep or comatose).
  • At higher levels of arousal, performance is poor because many different behaviors are activated, and these compete and interfere with each other. Or, perhaps, high levels of arousal increase the processing load imposed on the subject, effectively diminishing the amount of attentional resources that can be devoted to the task.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law can apply to both encoding (learning) and retrieval (remembering).

Arousal and Retention IntervalThe Yerkes-Dodson Law has very wide applicability in psychology, but at least in the case of memory the effects of arousal may be qualified by the length of the retention interval. In 1963 and 1964, Kleinsmith and Kaplan reported experiments in which they recorded subjects' level of physiological arousal (looking at a psychophysiological measure called the electrodermal response) while they a list of nonsense syllables. Based on this measure, they identified, for each subject, some items that stimulated high levels of arousal, and others that did not. After either a short or long retention interval, the subjects were asked to recall the items they had studied. Kleinsmith and Kaplan discovered that, over short retention intervals, items associated with relatively high levels of arousal were poorly remembered. But over long retention intervals, these same items were remembered relatively well. This interaction between arousal level and retention interval is now known as the Kleinsmith-Kaplan Effect.

The fact that an item could be poorly remembered over short retention intervals, but well remembered over longer retention intervals, indicates that the items associated with high levels of arousal are not merely poorly encoded. If they were poorly encoded, they'd simply be forgotten. Explaining the Kleinsmith-Kaplan effect isn't easy, but one prominent hypothesis is that high arousal levels effectively protect the newly encoded memory trace during the consolidation period. This "protective barrier" (as it were) impairs retrieval over short retention intervals, but after the memory has solidified the barrier dissipates, leaving the new memory more accessible over longer retention intervals.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law, and the Kleinsmith and Kaplan effect, have to do strictly with arousal levels, and do not depend on the subject's specific emotional state. But, in addition to mood-dependent memory, there are several effects of specific emotional states --differentiated arousal -- on memory.

Resource Allocation EffectOne of these, identified by Ellis and Ashbrook (1988, 1989), is known as the resource allocation effect. Recall the distinction, discussed in the lectures on Memory, between automatic and controlled processes. Controlled processes consume attentional resources, while automatic processes do not. Reviewing research on the effects of depression on memory, Ellis and Ashbrook concluded that depression impaired performance on effortful memory tasks such as recall and recognition (especially free recall), but had no effect on automatic tasks, such as priming effects. More generally, depression impairs explicit memory, but not implicit memory.

Why should this be so? There are, in fact, a number of mechanisms by which the resource-allocation effect could occur.

  • Depression might simply diminish the subject's motivation to perform the task, so that he does not allocation enough attentional resources to it.
  • Depression itself might directly diminish the attentional resources available to support task performance.
  • Depressed subjects might be distracted by depressing thoughts, which effectively subtracts from the attentional resources available.

The resource allocation effects of depression on memory raise the interesting question of what the effects of mania -- a state of pathological elation -- might have on memory. You read this here first.

Mood-Congruent MemoryAnother set of effects is known as mood-congruent memory (MCM), which has to do with the match between the emotional valence of the material (positive or negative) and the subject's mood (positive or negative). And, at least there are two kinds of MCM:

  • In mood-congruent encoding, the subject's mood is varied at the time of encoding positive and negative material, and then retrieval is attempted in a neutral mood.
  • In mood-congruent retrieval, the subject encodes positive and negative material in a neutral mood, and then attempts retrieval in a neutral mood.

MCM might be a special case of mood-dependent memory, based on the assumption that positive events induce positive moods, and negative events induce negative moods. For this reason, while studies of MCM must employ affectively valenced material (because the material has to be congruent or incongruent with the subject's mood state), the best studies of MDM use affectively neutral material.

MDM is interesting on clinical grounds, because it may reinforce low mood in depressed individuals. If being depressed makes it more likely that you'll encode unhappy events, then there will be more negative events available in memory. And if being depressed makes it more likely that you'll retrieve unhappy events from a memory store that is already biased toward unhappiness, you'll get even more depressed than you already are! And if being depressed makes it less likely that you'll remember the happy times, then it will be more difficult to snap yourself out of it. Throw MDM on top of MCM, and depressed individual will be more likely to remember events encoded during previous episodes of depression, precipitating a vicious spiral downward in mood. So, even if it turns out that clinical depression is purely biological in origin, the effects of mood on memory are likely to make things even worse.

There also have been claims for mood-incongruent memory, such that memory is best when happy subjects attempt to encode or retrieve negative material, or sad subjects attempt to encode or retrieve positive material. The claim is not unreasonable. If you think of mood operating analogously to a cognitive schema, providing a kind of emotional (rather than cognitive) framework for perception and memory, we would expect to find both "schema"-congruent and "schema"-incongruent information remembered better than "schema"-irrelevant material. However, occasional reports of mood-incongruency have not been independently confirmed, so -- unlike the other effects described here -- the effect cannot (yet) be considered reliable.

All these effects can be represented in the following table:

A General Experimental Framework

for Studying Emotional Effects on Memory

Encoding Mood

Retrieval Mood





























































+ = Positive Material; 0 = Neutral Material; - = Negative Material

Here are predictions for various combinations of cells:

Emotional Valence Effect:

Cell 13 > Cell 14 > Cell 15

Emotional Intensity Effect:

Cells 13 and 15 > Cell 14

Resource Allocation Effect on Encoding:

Resource Allocation Effect on Retrieval:

Cells 11 and 17 > Cell 14

Cells 05 and 23 > Cell 14

Mood-Dependence Effects

Cells 0 and 26 > Cell 14 > Cells 08, 20

Mood-Congruent Encoding

Mood-Congruent Retrieval

Cells 10, 18 > Cells 13, 15 > Cells 12, 16

Cells 04, 24 > Cells 13, 15 > Cells 06, 22

Emotion and Judgment

There are also studies of the effects of mood on judgment, many of which have been performed by Joseph Forgas and his colleagues, and Jennifer Lerner and her colleagues. Forgas finds that, in general, people are more risk-averse when in a negative mood, but Lerner has found more subtle effects when she takes into account different kinds of negative emotional states, such as sadness or anger.

Emotion and Perception

And finally, Paul Niedenthal and her colleagues, among others, have followed up on Bruner's original "New Look" by examining the effects of perception on emotion -- represented, for example, in her book, edited with Shinobu Kitayama, The Heart's Eye: Emotional Influences in Perception and Attention (1994).

Prospects for a Psychology of Emotion

There was a time when psychologists were strongly interested in emotion. Experiments on fear conditioning and avoidance learning played an important role in advancing our understanding of both classical and instrumental conditioning. Mowrer's two-factor theory of avoidance learning is all about the emotion of fear. And so is Cannon's idea that the autonomic nervous system serves as the biological basis of the "flight or fight" response, where something like fear seems to be the instigator for these self-protective behaviors.

Still, scientific Interest in emotion was undermined by the radical behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, who argued that psychology should confine itself to tracing the functional associations between environmental stimuli and organismal responses, without speculating about internal emotional states (or cognitive or motivational states either, for that matter). Skinner used positive reinforcement in almost all of his studies, so he never had to find a behavioristic substitute for words like "fear". But it never occurred to him to define positive (or negative) reinforcement in terms of the pleasure (or unpleasure) that it gave the animal. Reinforcement was simply an environmental event that increased the probability of whatever behavior preceded it.

The cognitive revolution allowed psychologists to talk about emotion and other internal, mental states again -- even in nonhuman animals. But cognition dominated psychological talk. To the extent that psychologists talked about emotions at all, they tended to think of them, as in the Schachter-Singer experiment, as derived from cognition. We don't feel things, we just think we do. As a result, cognitive psychology became a major enterprise in the field -- really, the dominant subfield of psychology, with a whole host of undergraduate courses, textbooks, and graduate training groups. By comparison, the psychology of emotion garnered relatively little academic attention.

But the cognitive revolution in psychology eventually spurred what I think of as an affective counterrevolution. A purely cognitive explanation of behavior seemed too cold and dry to some social psychologists, who began to argue for "hot" cognition, in which emotions (and motives) played a more central role. Even before the cognitive revolution, Jerome Bruner and others argued for a "New Look" in perception, which began with the assumption that feelings and needs affected even "elementary" cognitive processes like perception. In response to cognitive-appraisal theorists like Lazarus, Zajonc and others began to argue that affect, or at least some emotional states, arose independently of cognition -- as in Zajonc's 1980 paper entitled "Feeling and Thinking: Preferences Need No Inferences" (a lively debate ensued between Zajonc and Lazarus in the pages of the American Psychologist). Much post-Zajonc research on emotion has had a decidedly non-cognitive slant to it, heavily influenced by evolutionary psychology on the one hand, and the neuroscientific Doctrine of Modularity on the other. In any event, the emotion is back in psychology again. If there are relatively few graduate groups explicitly formed around the topic (though there are some), undergraduate courses and textbooks have begun to appear on the scene, and the topic is more popular than ever before.

This page last modified 01/19/2016.