Chapter 2: Classical Theories of Emotion

Real-Life Extension of Schachter and Singer (1962)

Dutton and Aron (1974) conducted a study to evaluate how misattribution of arousal would operate in the real-world. Watch the below video that explains the study. While watching the video, consider the following questions:

  1. How did the males mis-attribute their emotional experiences?


  2. Which eliciting event actually caused their arousal?


  3. Which eliciting event did the males think caused their arousal?


Capilano Suspension Bridge with passengers.
Photo – Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver

In study 1, Dutton and Aron (1974) included one quasi-independent variable. In this study, the quasi-IV was whether men were walking across a low bridge or across the high bridge in the picture above. This is a quasi-IV because Dutton and Aron could not randomly assign men to walk across the high or low bridge. It is important to note that Dutton and Aron assumed the males on the high bridge experienced more physiological arousal than males on the low bridge. They did not actually measure participants’ arousal levels. While walking across the bridge, an attractive female experimenter stopped the males to ask them to participate in a study and to answer questions about how nature affects creative expression. At the end of this “fake” creativity study, the female experimenter provided her phone number to the male participants. The outcome measure was the percentage of men who called the female experimenter in the days after the study ended.

In the low bridge condition, only 9% of the males called the female experimenter. In the high bridge condition, 39% of the males called the female experimenter – a significantly greater proportion! Dutton and Aron concluded that males in the high bridge condition misattributed their arousal to the attractive female experimenter, labeled their arousal as love or attraction, and thus called the female experimenter later (an approach behavior!). In reality, Dutton and Aron concluded, males in the high bridge condition were actually aroused because of fear due to the high bridge. So, males in the high bridge condition engaged in the cognitive appraisal process and identified the wrong eliciting event. Males in the low bridge condition probably did not experience arousal, so they may not have engaged in the cognitive appraisal process at all. Dutton and Aron’s (1974) study might explain why people fall in love with each other after a traumatic event (a plot story of soooo many movies!). People misattribute their arousal from the traumatic event as caused by the romantic partner. But, in reality, it’s not love – it’s fear! Finally, if you wanted someone to fall in love with you, you could use this theory. Take your love interest to a high-arousal event (haunted house, scary movie) and hopefully they will attribute their arousal to love and not to fear!

Dutton and Aron (1974) supports Schachter and Singer’s (1962) theory. When people experience arousal, they interpret the environment so they can label their emotion. But, a lot of the time, we probably don’t have the introspective ability to accurately identify our true emotion! There’s just too many variables to consider!


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