How Emotional is Too Much Emotion?

A certain amount of emotion is normal, but extreme emotion or lack of emotion altogether can be of concern.
Following a period of angry emotions accompanied by physiological arousal, we reach a state of calm which is also reflected in decreased physiological arousal. 
Nevertheless, physiological arousal itself can influence our perception of anger. For instance, if you were very exhausted after playing a gruelling game of tennis you would be highly aroused physiologically. If you then discovered that the on-site showers were out of use, you would probably be a lot angrier than if you had just played a leisurely game. Various theories of emotion have been put forward in order to try and explain whether anger causes arousal or vice-versa.

The James-Lange Theory

Essentially this theory is based on the findings of William James and Carl Lange who individually proposed similar ideas about our perception of emotions. The James-Lange theory suggests that we experience emotions in response to our perceptions of physiological arousal. For example, if you were to witness an act which made you angry, you would not experience the anger first. Instead, you would feel the changes in your body such as increased sweating, faster heartbeat, and heavier breathing and only then would you experience feeling angry.

It follows that if we experience emotions as a result of observing physical changes in the body, then we would experience different emotions in relation to different physical changes. In an experiment by Ax (1953), participants had electrodes connected various parts of their body such as the head, hands, heart area, and so on. From these he measured arousal as indicated by blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, sweating etc. Participants were told that he was assessing differences in arousal levels of people who suffered from hypertension compared to those who did not. They were asked to relax and listen to music. In fact he was interested in the differences in fear and anger responses.

Those in the fear condition received small but increasing electric shocks to their little finger. When they informed the researcher he would show surprise and pretend to check the wiring before exclaiming that there was a dangerous, high voltage, short-circuit. This would induce fear in the participant.

Those in the anger condition were told that the technician conducting the polygraph was previously sacked for incompetence but had to be re-employed due to the usual technician being ill. The bogus technician would then be offensive towards the participant and nurse once the researcher had left the room. Clearly, the participant would become angry.
Ax found some differences in the physiological reactions of is two groups of participants. Those in the anger condition experienced higher blood pressure and face temperatures. The fear responses were similar to the physiological effects produced by adrenalin and the anger responses were similar to the physiological effects produced by both adrenalin and noradrenalin.
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The Cannon-Bard Theory

Walter Cannon argued that physiological responses and emotional reactions were entirely independent of one another, but that they may occur in response to the same stimuli at times. The Cannon-Bard Theory proposed that the arousal response was a general response and did not relate to specific emotions. Cannon believed that the same physiological responses were elicited from a variety of different emotional states - emotional stimuli produce a generalised fight or flight response. We experience the fight or flight response and ‘usually’ at the same we interpret the information through a separate cognitive process in order to understand it, and it is this cognitive process which results in our experience of the emotion.

The difficulty with this approach is that it is almost impossible for us to segregate these two processes. We tend to describe physiological symptoms and emotional experiences using the same types of words.

Schachter’s Theory
This theory is based on the notion of attributions. Schachter (1964) suggested that individuals make attributions about physiological changes and social situations to understand what is happening. The social situation determines how they experience an emotion - whether it manifests as fear, anxiety, anger, and so forth. The physiological response determines the degree of the emotion experienced i.e. weak, moderate, strong etc.

Schachter and Singer (1962) conducted an experiment to verify their theory. They assigned participants to either a condition aimed at stimulating feelings of happiness and euphoria, or one designed to stimulate feelings of anger. All participants were given an injection, said to be vitamins, before moving in to a waiting room. Unbeknownst to them, some participants were in fact given a placebo and the others were given an adrenalin injection. Of those given the adrenalin: one group were told of the likely effects of the injection, one group were told to expect symptoms which would not occur (happy condition only), and one group was not told anything about possible effects.

In the happiness condition the participant sat in a waiting area with a happy stooge who made paper aeroplanes and played basketball with screwed up pieces of paper and waste paper basket. In the anger condition the participant was asked to complete a long-winded, very personal questionnaire whilst a stooge in their presence became increasingly annoyed and vocalised their discontent over the nature of the questions before eventually stomping out of the room and ripping up their questionnaire.

The findings revealed that those who were misinformed or told nothing conformed more strongly. This suggests that because they did not have an explanation for their physiological arousal they labelled their experience in accordance with their cognitions. Those who were informed of the effects of the injection only conformed slightly to the stooge’s mood, suggesting that because they knew what to expect they did not label their feelings as emotions in the same way as the previous groups. Also, those who were given the adrenalin reacted more strongly indicating that the degree of their emotional experience was affected by their physiological state.       

Criticisms of this study include the fact that five participants were dropped for being insensitive to adrenalin. Also, the experiment has never been successfully replicated. Furthermore, they did not assess the mood of the participants beforehand.   Nevertheless, their findings did suggest that physiological responses should not be studied separately to cognitive aspects of emotion.

Lazarus’s Appraisal Theory
This is a three stage theory of emotion, and is really another attribution approach. Lazarus (1980) suggested that:

  1. An individual appraises a situation and decides whether there is a threat or not
  2. They then they employ a coping action to deal with the threat which can be physiological, cognitive or both. The coping action may be unconscious and could include any of various defence mechanisms or the fight or flight response
  3. Finally, they consider what is involved and thereby identify the emotions they are experiencing.

Weiner’s Attribution Theory
Weiner (1985) considered that our first reaction to any emotional stimulus is an assessment of whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. We then consider what caused the event. It is the attributions of causality which determine the emotion experienced and they can cause us to re-evaluate it or alter it.

In one of his experiments Weiner found that participants were more likely to experience an unpleasant event as shame if they attributed it as being due to an internal cause (their own lack of effort), and more likely to experience it as anger if they attributed to external causes beyond their control. Nevertheless, this work was based on participants recalling memories of events which may be quite different to experiencing emotions during actual events in the here and now.

Facial Feedback
In a series of experiments, Ekman, Sorenson and Friesen (1969) found that facial expressions used to convey emotions could promote the feeling of those emotions through feedback to the brain. Whereas the James-Lange Theory suggests that physiological states cause emotion, Facial Feedback Theory suggests that peripheral social signals cause them.

The authors found that facial expressions were innate and are expressed in the same way across all societies around the world. They isolated the facial muscles involved when expressing basic emotions such as happy, sad, angry, etc. Ekman, Levenson and Friesen (1983) encouraged participants to move certain muscles in their faces into positions to be held for ten seconds. These muscle positions replicated innate expressions of emotions. Physiological measures were taken and it was found that when simulating emotions such as anger, fear, or sadness the participants’ heart rates increased. Contrarily, surprise and disgust showed decreased heart rates. Anger produced raised skin temperature, but fear and sadness lowered skin temperature. The important finding was that participants who adopted facial expressions of emotions produced greater differences in physiological measures than did participants who were asked to re-live emotions. 
Averill’s Social Construction Theory
The basic premise of Averill’s theory is that we experience emotions according to social constructs.  Averill (1980) suggested that we interpret physiological reactions through social norms and social roles. Emotions are only ‘transitory social roles’ experienced through the individual’s appraisal of the situation.  They are ‘transitory’ because they do not last indefinitely, and they are social roles because they enable various actions to occur in a socially agreed and understood context. 
Averill argued that in the course of everyday life an individual would not normally say that they wanted to hurt someone because it contradicts social norms. However, if someone was angry then this social taboo no longer applies. Therefore, anger is considered to be experienced as being out of an individual’s control - as more of a passion than the social role which Averill considered it to be. Nevertheless, given that someone who is angry normally expresses this in a socially acceptable way, Averill considered that emotions are not as uncontrollable as many think.
Averill considered that as a society we adopt this external way of thinking in order to distance ourselves from our emotions and thereby shirk responsibility for our actions. He said that emotions are acted out according to arousal, facial expressions, and so on but that they are experienced as acting out social roles.  
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