PSYC18H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 6: Autonomic Nervous System, Tachycardia, The Control Group

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15 Feb 2016
PSYC18 – Psychology of Emotion
Lecture 6
Emotions and the Body
Early Conceptions of Emotions and the Body
William James
Each emotion has a discrete physiological signature that is different from the signature of another
According to this theory, if you are sad, you will have a physiological response that will be
different from when you are happy or angry
This does not mean that there can be no overlap, but there should be differentiation
He thought that the viscera or the body was the starting point for emotions, he thought they
started from the body and spread out
This was a prominent theory at the time he thought the body sent signals to the brain via the
afferent networks of the autonomic nervous system
He thought the emotional signals were sent to the spinal cord, i.e. the CNS, and then the efferent
nerves carry it back out to the body which produces the appropriate response
The stimulus or event – bodily change – emotion
According to James, the body leads to emotional responses, and without it we would have no
Does Arousal = Emotion?
Walter B Cannon was the first to criticise James
He was inspired by another psychologist, and tested this back in the early 1900’s (1924)
He tested it by manipulating just the physiology and see whether that produces an emotional
Participants in the study were injected with epinephrine and asked how they felt
This was not a very controlled design, nothing was manipulated
It revealed that participants responses were in two broad categories which were hot vs. cold
Cold Reaction
Reported by 79% of participants
These people reported that something was wrong in their body, they had awareness of their
autonomic symptoms
But what they were experiencing was an incomplete emotion because they were only talking
about how their body was reacting
They were not really sure what the autonomic symptoms meant emotionally
Hot Reaction
These participants (21%) had an emotional response, not just the physiological arousal
They experienced something emotional as well, i.e. they were sobbing or weeping
They were reporting negative memories, such as the loss of loved one etc.
They were adding a psychological motif on top of the autonomic symptoms
Walter B Cannon
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He broke his critique down and explained why James was wrong
He was William James’ student and studied under him
The two conditions i.e. autonomic specificity – or unique physiological signature + order (body is
the starting place) needed to be met to prove James’ theory
His first criticism was that the same responses can be observed for more than one emotion
Second, he said that autonomic changes are incremental
The changes on an autonomic level are not fitting to the scale of changes we experience
Third, he thought these changes were too slow to account for the changes we feel emotionally
If one of the criteria we need to meet is order, then this does not fit in with the theory
Lastly, autonomic changes are also seen for non-emotional experiences
For example, bodily changes occur in the absence of emotions as well e.g. if we have a fever and
our respiration rate changes or if we are running on a treadmill etc.
We are often insensitive to autonomic nervous system changes, we do not have access to these
changes, we cannot tell how fast our food is being digested, or how fast our heart is beating
We would need to have access to this information if it were to influence our emotions, but the
reality of the matter is that we do not
Cannon Bard Theory of Emotion
An event elicits a bodily change, and produces an emotion
He argued that both are needed for the emotional experience
According to this theory, events are perceived by the hypothalamic structures in the brain, and
these structures produce the bodily response and the emotion
Animals with a removed thalamus do not experience rage
If you numb the cortex and it is no longer able to regulate the thalamus, it will cause greater
emotional reactivity in animals
Cats can continue to experience emotions in the absence of their autonomic nervous systems
Paralysis patients can experience emotions if their thalamus is left intact
Schacter-Singer Theory of Emotion
It is not just the body or the brain that produces the emotion, it also depends on the context
The same physiological state can be interpreted differently depending on the situation
If you have a fast heart beat at a party, it may mean you are excited, whereas if you experience it
while walking down a dark alley, it may be due to fear
The bodily change happens according to this theory, and then it needs to be labeled
Event – Bodily Change + Cognitive Appraisal
The event causes bodily change, plus cognitive appraisal (which is the emotion in this theory)
The bodily change occurs first, and then you have to figure out how to interpret that change
How is arousal appraised?
Schacter was inspired by Festingers notion of evaluative needs
As individuals we have this need to make sense of our experiences and surroundings
The notion of evaluative needs, is a fundamental human need
There are two ways that this is done:
Previous knowledge about the situation e.g. if you are going down a dark alley and hear a
gunshot, you know how to feel when you hear this sound
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This was be interpreted differently, if you hear a gunshot at a race, because you know that it
means that the race is about to begin
People can appraise their feelings based on previous knowledge from similar situations
If there is no previous knowledge, it could involve social comparison, relying on social cues
when appraising bodily states
Our surroundings are the source of our emotional states, we can get cues from people around us
to make sense of why we are feeling a certain way
We have the motivation to make sense of our bodily states and we can do this in a variety of ways
Attributions of Arousal Study
This was tested in the 1960s
Does a social context make a difference in terms of how I interpret my feelings?
Do evaluative needs help produce emotional states?
This was a 2 by 2 design study, there were 2 factors that were manipulated i.e. social context, and
the second was whether or not arousal was explained to the subjects
Epinephrine was given to the subjects and half were told about the physiological effects of it, and
the other half was not told
This fits into the idea of evaluative needs, the people told about the epinephrine and its effects
(fast heartbeat, sweaty palms, etc.) should have their evaluative needs met, because they will
know why they are experiencing these effects
The other half will not know why they are experiencing those bodily changes
The control group was given only a saline solution
The social context had half of the subjects in a waiting room with a euphoric confederate, and the
other half with an angry confederate
They manipulated the environment to see whether people would use social cues
If participants are affected by the confederates, we have evidence for question 1 asked in the
If giving them an explanation of the effects vs. not giving an explanation, produces a change in
their emotional state, then we have evidence for question 2 asked in the study
Attributions of Arousal Study
Only the top row had their evaluative needs met, and the remaining groups did not
Those that were misinformed, or given the wrong information, felt the most euphoric
The greater the explanation they received, the less they were affected by the euphoric confederate
Participants that knew they were feeling this way because of injection, were not affected by the
euphoric confederate
Participants that did not know why they were feeling euphoric were affected by the euphoric
The most emotional behavior was observed in the people who were not informed, they looked to
their social environment to seek an explanation
We rely on social cues to construct emotional responses, especially when our evaluative needs are
not met
More Recent Test of James’ Theory
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