Chapter 2: Classical Theories of Emotion

Schachter-Singer Two-Factor Theory

Stanley Schachter
A black and white photograph of Stanley Schachter.
Jerome Singer
A photograph of Jerome Singer

Stanley Schachter was born in Queens, New York.  He attended Yale University for art history, eventually switching to psychology.  After his undergraduate years, he received a Master’s in Psychology from Yale University and worked closely with Clark Hull (a learning theorist; drive reduction theory).  After working for a bit, he attended MIT for a doctoral degree under Kurt Lewin (a Gestalt psychologist and early founder of social psychology). His student peers included other famous social psychologists like Leon Festinger (cognitive dissonance theory), Harold Kelley (covariation model; interdependence theory), and John Thibaut (interdependence theory).  When Lewin suddenly died, Festinger took over Lewin’s lab and became Schachter’s doctoral adviser.  Eventually, Festinger moved the doctoral program to the University of Michigan, where Schachter was awarded his doctorate in psychology.  Schachter held positions at the University of Minnesota and later returned to his roots at Columbia University.

 Jerome Singer was born in the Bronx, New York.  Singer attended a doctoral program in psychology at the University of Minnesota under his adviser – Stanley Schachter!  He held professorships at Penn State University (woo hoo!) and the State University of New York’s Stony Brook. It is important to note that Schachter and Singer were trained as social psychologists, whereas Cannon and Bard were trained as medical doctors and physiologists.  Their early academic programs clearly influenced their views of emotion.

Schachter and Singer’s (1962) Two-Factor Theory of Emotion suggests that physiological arousal determines the strength of the emotion, while cognitive appraisal identifies the emotion label.  So, in this theory, the “two-factor” represents physiological change and cognitive appraisal change.

Figure 5

Model of Schachter-Singer’s Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

This flowchart however has two added text boxes branching off of the "Cognitive Appraisal / Labeling emotion" level of the flowchart. The two new text areas that flow from "Cognitive Appraisal" as resulting items are labeled: "Behavior Change, and Subjective Feelings".
Figure 5. A flowchart representing Schachter-Singer’s Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

Figure 5 above shows their theory.  The eliciting event causes a change in physiology and a change in cognitive appraisal.  According to this theory, physical arousal occurs first and instigates the cognitive appraisal process.  Physiological changes tell us how intensely we are experiencing the emotion.  High levels of physiological arousal would represent a strong or intense emotion, whereas low levels of physiological arousal represent a weak or less intense level of arousal.  According to Schachter and Singer, we cannot determine the emotion label from our arousal level.  This is because most emotions evoke similar physiological responses (heart beating, sweating, pupil dilation). Our cognitive appraisal of the event and of our physiological changes determine the label we attach to our emotional experience.  This cognitive appraisal could be quick and automatic or slow and conscious.  Our cognitive appraisal determines our behavior changes and subjective feelings.  In other words, we don’t know how to behave or how to consciously label our emotion until we appraise the situation!

 

This flowchart has the same exact structure as the previous flowchart image, however there are more details filled in the flowchart boxes. The eliciting event shown here is again the siting of a bear. The first path of the flowchart leads to a heart rate increase from the eliciting event of a bear. From the heart rate increase, the flowchart then points to a text area stating: "This a very strong change in arousal!". The second path of Schachter-Singer flow chart flows from the eliciting event to the cognitive appraisal. The cognitive appraisal flows with a dotted line (indicating the cognitive appraisal happening) into a text area that reads: "Why is my heart pounding? I see a bear - this explains the heart pounding!" The label of "Cognitive Appraisal" then flows into the labels: "Feels like fear!", and "Run!".
The familiar flowchart of the Schachter-Singer theory, with the eliciting event as seeing a bear.

 

This flowchart has the same exact structure as the previous flowchart image, however there are different details filled in the flowchart boxes. The eliciting event shown here is the siting of a significant other. The first response is similar to that of the bear siting, your heart rates increases and on the same level, a text area that flows from the heart rate text reads: "This is a very strong change in arousal!". The second path that flows from the significant other siting is again the "cognitive appraisal". The text area that is on the same level of the diagram that represents the labeling of the emotion being felt reads: Why is my heart pounding I see my significant other - this explains the heart pounding!" The two results flowing down from the cognitive appraisal and labeling of the emotion felt from the significant other are labeled "Approach!" and "Feels the Love!" Similar physiological responses to that of a bear but differences once cognitive appraisal happens.
The familiar flowchart of the Schachter-Singer theory, with the eliciting event as seeing a significant other (instead of a bear).
Compare the above two graphical representations of the two-factor theory of emotion.  In both figures, the physiological change is the same – our heart rate increases.  But, in the top figure, the eliciting event is a bear and in the bottom figure the eliciting event is a romantic partner.  So, to correctly label our emotion, we cannot rely on our heart rate.  Schachter and Singer would say we notice our heart beating and look around to determine why our heart is racing.  If we see a bear, then we label the emotion as fear, run away, and report subjective feelings of fear.  But, if we see our romantic partner, then we label the emotion love, approach our partner, and report subjective feelings of love!  This suggests that we could potentially pick the wrong eliciting event and identify our emotion incorrectly.

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Psychology 425 by Michelle Yarwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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