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Biological Psychology: What is Emotion? and the Theories of Emotion

Hello, everyone I that you’re having a good week.

Today’s psychology blog post is on biological and cognitive psychology and we’re focusing on emotion.

Firstly, what is emotion?

This is a very hard construct to define but Buck (1998) defined emotion as involving feelings, associated with expressive behaviours and have peripheral physiology responses.

In other words, emotion is the behaviour that allows you express yourself and it corresponds with a physical change in your body. Such as: a smile.

Furthermore, psychologists tend to define emotion in terms of 3 important areas:

· Cognition (mental processes)

· Feelings (the feeling of the emotion)

· Readiness for action (the physical change)

Although, what comes first?

Do you have the mental processes, the emotion then the physical change?

Or do you have the physical change that causes the mental processes to happen. Followed by the feeling/ emotion?

Nobody knows the answer to these questions.

The James-Lange theory:

Personally, I think this theory interesting not as a result of the theory itself but because this theory was developed by two different people on two different continents at the same time.

It was developed by an American and a German as well as published in 1884.

The theory states that emotion is the production of

· Appropriate physiological responses

· Appropriate behaviour

· Brain receives sensory feedback from muscles to organs to produce emotion.

In other words, the theory states that your body and mental processes react first then it’s your brain receiving feedback from your muscles that produce the feelings associated with the emotion.

For example: if I was surprised, my body was tense up and be frightened first then as the muscles and organs tell my brain that I’ve done this action. My brain coverts it into the feeling of being surprised or shocked.


Although, if this theory was true then:

· people who have increased or heightened autonomic responses should enhance emotion.

· People with weaker responses should feel less emotion.

However, even after 100 years this theory is still being debated.

(Which I find funny)

Some evidence for this theory and can be linked with embodied social cognition ( a topic featuring in next year’s social Psychology 2nd Edition) is that Botulinum toxin can lead to increasingly positive mood as it paralyses the frowning muscles (the physical change) then it produces the positive mood.

Schachter and Singer’s theory:

Another theory is by Schanter and Singer (1962)

The following in an extract from my biological psychology, which you can get for FREE by signing up for my mailing list.

In conclusion, emotion is the result of contextual cues and physical cues that are combined with cognitive labelling.

In other words, emotion is the result of us labelling what’s happening in the situation we’re in and what our body is doing as well.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s blog post.

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Please leave a comment below.

Have a great week everyone!

Kind regards Connor.

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