To What Extent Do Cognitive and Biological Factors Interact in Emotion

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To what extent do cognitive and biological factors interact in emotion?

Example exam approach: In this answer I will discuss the interaction of cognitive and biological factors with reference to three theories.

Psychologists have long debated the role physiological, cognitive and behavioural factors play in emotions. Originally believed to be a physiological experience, research now suggests that emotions are an interaction of both physiological and cognitive factors. Different theories debate the role and primacy of each.

Schacter (1964) Two – factory theory

Schacter (1964) was the first theorist to bring together the two elements of physiological arousal and cognition. It is sometimes known as the two-factor theory of emotion. For an emotion to be experienced a physiological state of arousal is necessary AND situational factors will then determine how we interpret this arousal.

In other words, an event causes physiological arousal first. You must then identify a reason for this arousal and then you are able to experience and label the emotion. The strength of physiological arousal will determine the strength of emotion experienced, while the situation will determine the type of emotion.

These two factors are independent of each other BUT both are necessary for the emotion to be experienced.

A classic study by Schacter & Singer (1962) supports these ideas. Their study tested the theory that an emotion is made up of cognitive appraisal (labelling the emotion) and physiological arousal (adrenaline and the physical changes it produces). They gave 3 groups of participants an adrenaline injection (epinephrine) and 1 group a placebo, and then put them into situations designed to create an emotional response of anger or happiness. Some participants were misled or given no information and the researchers predicted that they would blame their physical state on the situation, therefore reporting higher levels of emotion. Other participants were told the effects of the injection and so would not blame the situation as they already knew why they felt that way. The results were as predicted; indicating that if someone feels physiologically aroused and doesn't know why they will look at their situation in order to label their emotion.

Schacter & Singer concluded that a stimulus triggers a physiological response and at the same time the stimulus is interpreted in the brain taking into account previous experiences of similar situations. The brain produces the actual emotion that the person experiences, through cognitive factors, and the ANS produces the degree to which that emotion is felt. So emotion is an interaction of both cognitive and physiological factors This was a well-controlled study with several conditions. However the sample was not representative (all male) and males may have different emotional reactions to females. It is ethically questionable to both inject participants with substances and it may be distressing to induce anger.

Lazarus (1982) Appraisal theory

Whilst there are some problems with Schacter’s theory it has nonetheless been an important influence on theoretical accounts of emotion. Lazarus has built on the work of Schachter and also proposed a theory that demonstrates the interaction of cognitions and biology in understanding emotions.

He has however, emphasised the role of cognitions or ‘cognitive appraisals’.

He argued that an emotion-provoking stimulus triggers a cognitive appraisal, which is followed by the emotion and the physiological arousal. He suggested we initially make a brief analysis of a situation in terms of whether or not it represents a threat (we appraise a situation).

Cognitive appraisal of the situation determines the level of physiological arousal and the specific type of emotion to be experienced.

His theory focuses on the appraisal of the situation and he identified three stages of appraisal.

1. Primary appraisal...
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