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Cannon Bard Theory

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Cannon Bard Theory

Our emotions are what make us human. Being human allows you to think, live, and feel emotions based on your life experiences. Without emotions, we would life in a dull world without motivation.

Have you ever wondered about the basis of our emotions? Why do we feel emotions? Where do emotions even come from? Many people have theories about the phenomenon of emotion; however, it is hard to really know the mechanisms for sure.

Let's take a look at the Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion.

  • We'll briefly explain what the Cannon-Bard theory is.
  • We will define it.
  • We'll look at some examples of the application of the Cannon-Bard theory.
  • We'll examine the criticisms of the Cannon-Bard theory.
  • Finally, we'll compare Cannon-Bard vs. the James-Lange theory of emotion.

Cannon-Bard Theory [+] Emotions/Cannon-Bard Theory Explanation [+] Study SmarterEmotions, Pixabay.com

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion

The Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion was developed by Walter Cannon and Philip Bard. This theory suggests that emotions result when a region in our brains called the thalamus sends signals to our frontal cortex in response to environmental stimuli.

According to the Cannon-Bard theory, signals sent from our thalamus to our frontal cortex occur simultaneously with physiological responses that influence our behavior. This suggests that when we are faced with a stimulus, we experience emotions associated with the stimulus AND physically react to the stimulus at the same time. The Cannon-Bard theory outlines that our physical reactions do not depend on our emotional reactions and vice versa. Instead, the Cannon-Bard theory outlines that both our brains and our bodies work together to create emotion.

Now, let's take a closer look at the body's physiological responses to stimuli. When you encounter a stimulus, your thalamus sends signals to your amygdala, which is the emotion-processing center of the brain. However, the thalamus also sends signals to your autonomic nervous system when you encounter stimuli, to mediate your flight or fight response.

The thalamus is a deep brain structure located between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain. The thalamus has multiple connections to both your cerebral cortex, which is the center of higher functioning, and your midbrain, which controls your vital functions. The primary role of the thalamus is to transmit motor and sensory signals to your cerebral cortex. In the image below, the thalamus is depicted in bright green.

Cannon-Bard Theory, Thalamus/Cannon-Bard Theory Explanation, Study SmarterThalamus in Bright Green, Pixabay.com

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion Definition

As mentioned above, both our brains and bodies work together to produce emotion. As a result, the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion is defined as a physiological theory of emotion. This theory suggests that signals from the thalamus that project to the amygdala and the autonomic nervous system are the bases of emotions. In other words, our emotion does not influence our physiological response to a stimuli, as these two reactions occur simultaneously.

Cannon-Bard Theory Diagram

Let's take a look at this diagram to further develop our understanding of the Cannon-Bard theory.

Cannon-Bard Theory, Cannon-Bard Theory Diagram/Cannon-Bard Theory Explanation, Study SmarterDiagram of Cannon-Bard Theory, Created with BioRender.com

If you take a look at the image, you can see that the bear is the fear-provoking stimuli. According to Cannon-Bard theory, upon encountering the bear, your thalamus sends signals to the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system to initiate your fight or flight response. Meanwhile, your thalamus also sends signals to your amygdala which processes your fear and alerts your conscious brain that you are afraid.

Cannon-Bard Theory Examples

Imagine if a large spider jumps onto your foot. If you are like any other person, your automatic reaction would be to shake your foot to get the spider off. According to the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion, if you were afraid of the spider, you would experience that emotion at the same time you shook your foot to remove the spider.

Another example would be the stress of studying for an exam. According to the Cannon-Bard theory, you will experience the emotion of being stressed at the same time that you experience the physiological symptoms of stress, such as an upset stomach, or sweating.

The Cannon-Bard theory essentially portrays the mind and the body as one unit when it comes to emotion. We are conscious of our emotional response to a stimulus at the same time our physiological responses take place.

Cannon-Bard Theory Criticism

Following the emergence of the Cannon-Bard theory, there were many criticisms involving the true nature behind emotion. The main criticism of the theory was that the theory assumes that physiological reactions do not influence emotion.

This criticism had high merit; at the time, there was a large amount of research on facial expressions that proved otherwise. Many studies conducted during that time frame showed that participants who were asked to make a particular facial expression experienced the emotional response connected to the expression.

This research suggests that our physical reactions do influence our emotions. There are still disputes going on in the scientific community today about the true relationship between our emotions and our behaviors.

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion vs. James-Lange Theory of Emotion

Since the Cannon-Bard theory has had many criticisms, it is important to discuss the James-Lange Theory as well. The James-Lange theory was developed prior to the Cannon-Bard theory. It describes emotions as the result of physiological arousal. In other words, emotions are produced by the physiological changes produced by our nervous system's response to stimuli.

You will remember that your sympathetic system is responsible for activating your fight or flight response. If you encountered a terrifying stimulus like a bear, your sympathetic nervous system will initiate physiological arousal by activating your fight or flight response.

According to the James-Lange theory of emotions, you will only feel fear after the physiological arousal has taken place. The Jame-Lange theory is considered a peripheralist theory; this is the belief that higher processes such as emotion are caused by physiological changes in our bodies. This is entirely different from the Cannon-Bard theory which states that we feel emotion and have physiological changes at the same time.

The Cannon-Bard theory is considered a centralist theory, which is the belief that the central nervous system is the basis of higher functions like emotion. We know now that according to the Cannon-Bard theory, signals sent from our thalamus to our frontal cortex occur simultaneously to physiological responses that influence our behavior. The Cannon-Bard theory outlines the brain as the sole basis of emotions, while the James-Lange theory outlines our physiological responses to stimuli as the basis of emotions.

Despite the differences between the Cannon-Bard and the James-Lange theories, they both provide great insight into how our physiology and our higher minds interact to produce emotions.

Cannon-Bard Theory - Key takeaways

  • The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion was developed by Walter Cannon and Philip Bard.
  • According to the Cannon-Bard theory, signals sent from our thalamus to our frontal cortex occur simultaneously to physiological responses that influence our behavior.
  • When you encounter a stimulus, your thalamus sends signals to your amygdala, which is the emotion-processing center of the brain.
  • The thalamus also sends signals to your autonomic nervous system

References

  1. Carly Vandergriendt, What is Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion?, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions about Cannon Bard Theory

The Cannon-Bard theory explains emotion as a physiological process that occurs simultaneously with physical responses to stimuli. 

The Cannon Bard theory was proposed in response to the James-Lange theory of emotion. The James-Lange Theory was the first to characterize emotion as a label of physical reactions. The Cannon-Bard theory criticizes the James-Lange theory stating that both emotion and physical reactions to stimuli occur simultaneously.   

The Cannon-Bard theory is a biological theory. It states that the thalamus sends signals to the amygdala and the autonomic nervous system simultaneously resulting in simultaneous conscious emotion and physical responses to a given stimulus. 

The basic principle of the Cannon-Bard theory is that both emotional and physical responses to a given stimulus occur simultaneously. 

An example of Cannon-Bard Theory: I see a bear, I am scared, I run away. 

Final Cannon Bard Theory Quiz

Question

What is the Cannon-Bard Theory?

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Answer

A psychological theory of emotion that suggests that we experience emotions and have physical reactions simultaneously. 

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Who developed the Cannon-Bard theory?

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Answer

Walter Cannon and Philip Bard

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What brain region is highly involved in emotion and physical reactions according to the Cannon-Bard Theory?

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Answer

The thalamus

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Select the best example of Cannon-Bard Theory.

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Answer

I see a snake, I feel scared and I run away. 

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What division of the nervous system receives signals from your thalamus in response to stimuli?

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Answer

The autonomic nervous system

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Question

According to Cannon-Bard theory, what area of the brain receives signals from the thalamus to process emotions?

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Answer

The amygdala 

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According to Cannon-Bard Theory, which two regions of the brain receive signals from the thalamus simultaneously?

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Answer

The autonomic nervous system and the amygdala 

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Question

What is one of the main criticisms of the Cannon-Bard Theory?

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Answer

The Cannon-Bard Theory assumes that physiological reactions do not influence emotion. 

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Which structure is the basis for the Cannon-Bard Theory?

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Answer

The thalamus 

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Question

Which area of the brain is responsible for processing emotions and alerting your conscious brain about what you are feeling?

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Answer

The amygdala 

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Why was the Cannon-Bard theory criticized? 

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Answer

There were a lot of emerging studies that showed that participants experienced emotional responses linked to the facial expressions they were asked to make. 

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What is an example of the Cannon-Bard Theory?

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Answer

I see a bear, I am afraid and I run away

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Question

What part of your brain is the center of higher functioning?

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Answer

The cerebral cortex 

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Question

Where is the thalamus located?

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Answer

Between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain 

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Question

Which part of your nervous system mediates your response to stimuli?

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Answer

Your autonomic nervous system

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