Two-factor theory of emotions by Schechter and Singer

06 августа 1987 г., 10:03

When we get into a difficult situation, we get stressed. This law was described by Hans Selye, there is no psychology here, it is a purely biological adaptive reaction of any organism. Including us. As for our emotions and feelings, we construct them ourselves, understanding what kind of situation it is. If there is a suspicious criminal person nearby, then we will consider the arousal as fear, if a lovely woman – a romantic feeling, if we came to the exam-of course, we have exam jitters. Well, we have outlined the essence of the two-factor theory of emotions by Stanley Schechter.

​​​​​​​This theory States that "we infer our emotions in the same way that we infer what kind of people we are" – we observe our behavior and then explain why we behave in this way. In this case, we observe not only our external, social behavior, but also our internal behavior, namely, how much excitement we feel. If we feel aroused, we try to find out what is causing our arousal.
For example, your heart is beating fast and your body is tense. And what: do you feel terrible fear or do you have a stomach cramp from love? It is not determined by your inner experience, but by the situation you are in. There is nothing written on the experience – well, or we can't read much on it. And the situation is clearer, so we are focusing on it.

In total, two factors are important for us to understand our emotional state: whether there is a physiological arousal and what circumstances, the occurrence of which situation we can explain it. This is why Schechter's theory is called two-factor theory.

Stanley Schechter and Jerome singer conducted an experiment to test this audacious theory; imagine yourself participating in it. When you arrive, the experimenter informs you that a study is being conducted on how the vitamin suproxin affects human vision. After the doctor gives you an injection of a small dose of suproxine, the experimenter asks you to wait until the drug begins to take effect. He introduces you to another participant in the experiment. The second participant said that he, too, was administered a dose of Apraksina. The examiner gives each of you a questionnaire and says that he will come soon and give you a test to check your vision. You look at the questionnaire and notice that it contains some very personal and offensive questions. For example, "how many men (other than your father) did your mother have extramarital Affairs with?» The second participant reacts angrily to these questions, he becomes more and more furious, then tears up the questionnaire, throws it on the floor and slams the door out of the room. What do you think you will feel? Will you be angry too?

As you may have guessed, the real purpose of the experiment was not to test your eyesight. The researchers created a situation in which two main variables – arousal and the emotional explanation for that arousal-were present or absent, and then tested what emotions people experienced. The participants in the experiment did not actually receive any vitamin injection. Instead, the arousal variable was manipulated as follows: all participants in the experiment received a dose of epinephrine, a medication. Which causes arousal (increases body temperature and quickens breathing), and some participants were given a placebo that had no physiological effects.

Now imagine how you would feel when you received a dose of epinephrine: when you started reading the questionnaire, you felt aroused (note that the experimenter did not tell you that it was epinephrine, so you do not understand what exactly the drug makes you so excited). The second participant in the experiment – actually the experimenter's assistant-reacts furiously to the questionnaire. You are more likely to conclude that you are excited because you are also angry. You were put in the conditions that Schechter considered necessary for experiencing emotions – you are excited, you have searched and found a reasonable explanation for your excitement in this situation. And so you are also enraged. This is exactly what actually happened – participants who were given epinephrine reacted with more anger than subjects who received a placebo dose.

The most interesting conclusion from Schechter's theory is that people's emotions are somewhat arbitrary, they depend on the most likely explanation for arousal. Schechter and singer tested this idea from two sides. First, they showed that they can prevent people from getting angry if they rationally explain the reason for their arousal. Some participants who received a dose of epinephrine were told by the researchers that the drug would increase their heart rate, make their faces warm and red, and make their hands shake slightly. When people actually began to feel this way, they did not conclude that they were angry, but attributed their feelings to the action of the drug. As a result, these participants did not respond to the questionnaire with anger.

Even more clearly, Schechter and singer demonstrated that they can make participants experience completely different emotions if they change the most likely explanation for their arousal. In other conditions, the participants did not receive a questionnaire with offensive questions and did not see how angry the experimenter's assistant was. Instead, the assistant experimenter pretended to be overcome with gratuitous joy and behaved nonchalantly, he played basketball with paper pellets, made paper airplanes and launched them into the air, twirled a hula Hoop that he found in the corner. How did the real participants in the experiment react? If they received a dose of epinephrine, but did not know anything about its effects, they concluded that they felt happy and carefree, and in some cases even joined in an impromptu game.

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