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).

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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 (relevance) – in which we consider how the situation affects our personal well-being or how threatening the situation is. 2. Secondary appraisal (options) – we consider how we might cope with the situation 3. Reappraisal (ability to handle emotion) – Reappraisal refers to whether the emotion / situation is changeable or manageable. Speisman et al (1964)

A study that supports Lazarus theory is that conducted by Speisman. He showed college students a film called ‘Sub-incision’, a graphic film about an initiation ceremony involving unpleasant genital surgery. The aim was see if the people’s emotional reactions could be manipulated. The experiment deliberately manipulated the participant’s appraisal of the situation and evaluated the effect of the type of appraisal on their emotional response. One group saw the film with no sound. Another group heard a soundtrack with a “trauma” narrative emphasising the pain, danger, and primitiveness of the operation.

A third group heard a “denial” narration that denied the pain and potential harm to the boys, describing them as willing participants in a joyful occasion who “look forward to the happy conclusion of the ceremony. ” The fourth group heard an anthropological interpretation of the ceremony. Physiological (heart rate and galvanic skin tests) and self-report measures of stress were taken. Those who heard the trauma narration reacted with more stress than the control group (no sound); those who heard the denial and scientific narrations reacted with less stress than the control group.

This was a well-controlled lab experiment, including scientific measures of emotional reactions – heart rate and galvanic skin tests. Such results seem to support Lazarus’s theory that it is not the events themselves that elicit emotional stress but rather the individual’s interpretation or appraisal of those events. However, as it was a lab experiment the videos were an artificial test of emotional reaction. It may also be unethical to expose participants to high levels of discomfort. Le Doux (1996) Biological factors Le Doux mapped out the biological circuitry of emotions through work on rats.

In his experiments, rats are exposed to a tone and mild electric shock at the same time. Later, at the sound of the tone by itself, they freeze, as if frightened. They have been conditioned to fear the noise. By using tracers, chemicals that stain neurons LeDoux found a direct pathway from the ear to a two-way station called the sensory thalamus that led directly to the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the forebrain. So the emotional stimulus is first processed in the sensory thalamus which sends a signal to the amygdala. This is a short-route.

The amygdala triggers a flight or fight physiological reaction. When this pathway was cut, rats could not be conditioned to fear a sound. At the same time the sensory thalamus sends the information via the indirect pathway (long route) to the cortex which results in an appraisal of the stimulus and the outcome of this is sent to the amygdala. According to LeDoux the advantage of having a direct and indirect route to the amygdala is flexibility in responses. In the case of danger the fast and direct pathway is useful because it saves time in dangerous or emergency situations.

On the other hand the long pathway allows for a more thorough evaluation of a situation which can help avoid inappropriate responses. The role of the amygdala in emotional responses, particularly fear, is supported by the case study of S. M. At age 20 S. M was diagnosed with Urbach-Wiethe disease which caused her amygdale to deteriorate. Despite being tested in the normal range for intelligence and other cognitive kills she is now unable to feel fear. To provoke fear in S. M. , Feinstein et al (2010) exposed her to live snakes and spiders, took her on a tour of a haunted house, and showed her emotionally evocative films.

On no occasion did SM exhibit fear, and she never endorsed feeling more than minimal levels of fear. Likewise, across a large battery of self-report questionnaires, 3 months of real-life experience sampling, and a life history replete with traumatic events, S. M failed to exhibit fear. Conclusion The primacy of biology and cognition in emotion remains open to debate. However what research does show is that there is a high level of interaction between the two and that emotion is a combination of both physiological arousal and cognition.


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