Chapter 2: Classical Theories of Emotion

Summary of Classical Theories of Emotion

In this chapter, we discussed three classic theories of emotion: 1) James-Lange, 2) Cannon-Bard, and 3) Schachter and Singer.  Each of these theories agree that an eliciting event activates changes in some or all of the emotion components.  James-Lange focused on physiological and behavior changes as a cause of the emotion, later extending their work to discuss quick and slow cognitive appraisals.  Cannon-Bard stated all four components occur separately, but simultaneously.  Although Cannon-Bard did not emphasize one factor as more important, they were the first to clearly identify cognitive appraisals as an important and separate component from behavior, physiology, and subjective feelings. Schachter and Singer suggested two factors were important in labeling the emotion – unexplained physiological arousal and our attributions or appraisals of the emotion episode.


As mentioned above, Cannon-Bard has been refuted and today we only talk about this theory in a historical context.  James-Lange Theory, derived from evolutionary theory, is the foundation for the modern perspective Basic Emotion Theory. Schachter-Singer provided the foundation for the modern Cognitive Appraisal Theory.

James-Lange Theory

Key Points:

  • Evolutionary Perspective
  • Bodily and behavior changes determine emotion
  • Cognitive appraisal occurs quickly through unconscious processes in the brain.

Schachter-Singer Theory

Key Points:

  • Cognitive Appraisal Theory
  • Body determines strength, not label
  • Unexplained arousal leads to cognitive appraisal
  • Slower cognitive appraisal


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