Emotions are hard to describe…

ImageOnce I was listening to a big lecture from a man who was describing this old court room when I went on my journey to Washington D.C. in 2006. All of a sudden I hear two boys behind me saying, “Oh cool! Should we tell her? Yeah.. it’s probably a good idea. Excuse me, miss?” I turn around and smile. “Yeah?” I ask quietly. “Well, there is a huge spider on your leg.” Without hesitation I intermediately stand up, scream, and freak out. I was kicked out of the lecture because my emotions got the best of me.

My group’s topic is involved with emotional psychology. I had a hard time picking something to research about but then it got me thinking about emotions in general. Why do we react like we do? Are emotions just reactions to an event? If so, why can’t everyone have the same reaction? How come I wasn’t excited by that spider like those other boys, but was scared?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines emotion as the affective aspect of consciousness, but I wanted to know more. I discovered there are four popular theories to emotions.

Theory 1- James-Lange Theory

The oldest theory is known as the James-Lange Theory, which came from the two theorists William James and Carl Lange. They were both interested in the idea of emotion around the same time in 1884-1887. The theory is that “emotion is not directly caused by the perception of an event but rather the bodily response caused by the event”. That means that in order to feel emotion, we must first feel a bodily response or reaction such as your heart racing or fast breathing. For example, if I almost get into a car accident, my heart will race. Once I notice my heart rate, my brain figures out that I am experiencing fear.

Theory 2- Cannon-Bard Theory

The second theory is known as the Cannon-Bard Theory, which developed around 1927. They argued that the “same bodily responses accompany many different emotions.” Which means if my heart is racing, there could be many different emotions I experience such as fear or excitement. They concluded that when the experience of emotion and the bodily response occur at the same time, they are independent from each other. For example, when my heart races, it may not necessarily mean that I am angry but rather excited in a positive way. My brain cannot just rely on a bodily response to know which emotion I am experiencing.

Theory 3- Schachter-Singer Theory

Stanly Schachter and Jerome Singer discovered the third theory as the Schachter-Singer Theory (or Two-Factor Theory), which developed around 1962. It “suggests that experiencing an emotion requires both bodily response and an interpretation of the bodily response by considering the particular situation the person is in at the moment.” Even though the bodily response is the same for many emotions, it depends on the situation your in for a certain emotion. For example, if my heart was racing and a wild dog was chasing me I would interpret that as fear. If my heart races while I look at someone I’m in love with, it would be interpreted as excitement.

This image is an example of the first three theories of emotion

Theory 4- Opponent-Process Theory

The most common and different theory is know as Opponent-Process Theory by two psychologists, Richard Solomon and John Corbit in 1974. This explains our experience of emotions in relation to its opposites. “Emotions disrupt the body’s state of balance and that our basic emotions typically have there opposing counterparts.” Examples of opposites are pleasure and pain, fear and relief, and depression and elation. This also applies to taking an addictive drug and experiences the harsh withdrawal afterwards. For example, I would feel a very high level of fear before I bungee jump off a ledge. After the jump, I would then feel a very high level of relief, the opposite of fear.


I find this exciting because now it feels like I can read people a little better thinking of all the emotions that they react by. For example, I was thinking about if a clown walked into our classroom and how many students would either react with excitement or be completely scared out of their minds. Excitement and fear are completely different emotions that people would react by from their past experiences with clowns. This is all very interesting to me and I would love to know more such as what is the opposite of neutral? And can you feel emotion in your sleep? Can animals feel the exact same emotions as humans?

I think I agree with emotion and bodily response having to be related especially in a certain situation but it which one affects the other first? I think the main bodily responses to any emotion has to do with your heart rate, the sinking stomach feeling, and “butterflies”. Sometimes, feeling those “butterflies” makes me even happier because it feels so good. Lastly, why is it so hard for people be this emotionally happy and react to everything like this?



  1. The instructor asking you to leave out of class I feel is ridiculous. I feel that in this world, people are not understanding the problems everyone is going through, even though in this case it is only an episode and not in the long term. I am sorry about the pain you went through from judgments and assumptions from others.

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