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Theories of Emotion

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Theories of Emotion

Have you ever made a decision you regretted? When you thought about it afterward, it seemed like you only made the decision because you were emotional? Maybe you have been told to never send a text or an email when you are angry. This can be sound advice!

Emotions can affect both our thoughts and behavior.

  • What are theories of emotion in psychology?
  • What is the two-factor theory of emotion?
  • What is the cognitive-appraisal theory of emotion?
  • What is the Lazarus theory of emotion?

Theories of Emotion in Psychology

Multiple psychologists have attempted to understand emotion. This drive to understand has resulted in several different theories of emotions. These different theories of emotions stem from different ideas. Some of them stem from the idea that our physiologic states determine our emotions, others state that cognition is what determines our emotions. There are 6 universal emotions: Happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, and fear.

Emotion in psychology is defined as a complex state of feeling. These feelings will result in psychological and physical changes that will affect both thought and behavior. James and Lange (1884) constructed a theory of emotion in psychology. The Cannon-Bard theory (1927) was introduced later, and Schachter and Singer (1962) also added their thoughts on the psychology of emotions. More recently, Lazarus (1991) created his own theory of emotion as well.

Though psychologists agree that emotions associated with feelings have physiological, behavioral, and cognitive components, they disagree as to how the three components interact to produce feelings and actions.

Emotion is a state of feeling such as happiness, fear, or sadness.

A physiologic state is a temporary period of sympathetic or parasympathetic activation.

  • The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the rest and digest response. It is important to understand that physiologic response can also be parasympathetically mediated. In a calm situation, you may have a slower heart rate and small pupils.

Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

The two-factor theory of emotion is also known as Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion; it emerged in the 1960s. This theory was one of the first cognitive theories of emotion. This theory states that emotion comes from an interaction between physical arousal and the person's cognitive label of that emotion. Just having a physiologic response is not enough to experience an emotion.

The two-factor theory of emotion states that emotion comes from the interaction between physiologic arousal and the cognitive label of that arousal.

We see a mugger and our heart rate increases. The important distinction in the two-factor theory is that we must then label what is causing the increased heart rate. In this scenario, we would say, "this is caused by fear, thus I am afraid".

However, if we went on a roller coaster, our heart rate would increase just the same. In this circumstance, however, we would be more likely to say, "I am excited!"

In order to test this theory, the two theorists performed an experiment. Participants were informed that they were in a new trial testing a drug's effects on eyesight. They used epinephrine, which acts on the body as a sympathetic activator. Epinephrine causes fast heart rate, dilated pupils, trembling, and sweating. These subjects were split into two groups; one group was informed of side effects, while the other was not. Then they were placed in a room with an actor (confederate) who they believed to be just another participant. The actors were informed to either act excited or angry.

Epinephrine is a chemical that is naturally produced in the body. It activates the sympathetic nervous system.

They concluded that the people who were not aware of the side effects were more likely to feel emotion than those who were informed. Those that weren’t aware of the drug's effects attributed the stimulation to their situation, and assumed it was because of emotion.

Cognitive-Appraisal Theory of Emotion

The cognitive-appraisal theory states that emotion depends on the interpretation of a situation.

The cognitive appraisal theory states that a person's interpretation of a situation is what leads to emotion, despite what the situation really is.

One example of the cognitive-appraisal theory: Imagine a person walks into a dark house at night, and their friends jump out with a birthday cake. Despite this being a surprising situation, the person is likely to interpret the situation as exciting. They will most probably be happy.

Another example would be if a person goes through a breakup. Despite this being a sad situation, focusing on the positives (the ability to spend more time on hobbies, the ability to meet new people and have time for self-growth, etc) can help them have a positive view of the break-up.

The Lazarus Theory of Emotion

The Lazarus theory of emotion is also called the cognitive meditational theory of emotion. It was coined by Richard Lazarus, who focused on appraisal for explaining emotion.

The Lazarus theory of emotions states that humans go through different stages of emotion.

According to Lazarus, there are 5 stages to his theory.

Stage 1

Primary appraisal is the first stage, involving the person appraising their situation. They can either classify it as positive, dangerous, or irrelevant. Positive or irrelevant situations end the stages of emotion.

Stage 2

Secondary appraisal occurs if the situation is thought to be dangerous. Then the person will assess their readiness to deal with said situation. If they are prepared then this ends the stages of emotions. If not, they progress to stage 3.

Stage 3

Stage 3 is stress. The inability to deal with their situation will lead to stress. A person will stay at this stage until they work towards a resolution.

Stage 4

Coping skills is stage 4. According to Lazarus, there are two ways an individual can cope with stress. They can be either problem-focused or emotionally focused.

Stage 5

Reappraisal occurs after the stressor is removed. They then reappraise their situation and learn from it.

A person encounters a mugger and deems them dangerous. They reach stage one. Since they deemed them dangerous, they progress to stage 2. Since they are alone and do not have the means to deal with the mugger, they progress to stage 3. In this stage they experience stress. So they move to stage 4. In this stage, they can either deal with this stress by solving the problem, or convince themselves that the situation is not dangerous. In this case, since the situation is dangerous it is better that they deal with it, perhaps by running away. Finally, they arrive at stage 5. The stressor is gone, and they reappraise their situation and learn from it.

The James-Lange Theory of Emotion

William James and Carl Lange were two psychologists who studied emotion in the 1800s. They actually came up with their theories separately! They combined their work later. According to their theory, there are two parts to our emotions. The first is what we experience in our environment and how it affects our physiology. The second part is how we interpret what we experience.

The sequence looks like this: Physiological changes --> interpretation of feelings --> emotion --> behavior.

The James-Lange Theory of Emotion states that emotion comes from our physiology, and our interpretation of our situation.

When we get excited, our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, and our blood pressure rises. We're generally not afraid of feeling excited. When we're nervous, our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, and our blood pressure rises, just like when we feel excited. The difference is that we don't usually enjoy feeling nervous.

Feeling nervous all the time is a serious problem. So why the difference between these two feelings? According to James and Lange, the difference is how we interpret our physiologic response.

Let’s say you are walking in the street and you see someone get mugged. This triggers the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system, and your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate, and you tremble. Since you are aware that you are in a dangerous situation, you interpret this feeling as fear. You respond to that fear by fighting back or running away.

Theories of Emotion Dark Alley StudySmarterFear-inducing environment, pixabay.com

Before this theory, most psychologists thought that emotions come first, and physiological responses come after. James and Lange were some of the first psychologists to reverse this order: our physiological response (sweating, heart racing, etc.) comes first, and our perception of what is happening is second.

One criticism of the James-Lange theory of emotion is that emotions tend to usually be associated with only one physiological response.

Opponent-Process Theory of Emotion

The opponent-process theory of emotion was introduced by Richard Solomon. It states that certain emotions have opposites. After some time, one emotion will lead to the other. Let's take a look at an example to understand this better.

The opponent-process theory states that fear and relief are two opposite emotions. If you are exposed to the same fear over and over again, it may no longer become scary, and the sense of relief would become the primary emotion.

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion

The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion was publicized by physiologists Walter Cannon and Phillip Bard in 1927. This theory, which is also known as the thalamic theory of emotion, states that humans feel emotion and experience a physiologic response simultaneously. In comparison to the James-Lange theory, the Cannon-Bard theory used a more neurobiological approach.

The Cannon-Bard theory states that emotion and physiologic response occur at the same time.

Let’s use our previous example of the mugger. In the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion, the person will see the mugger, and say, "I am afraid because there is a mugger in front of me," and also have a physiologic response.

This theory is also called the thalamic theory of emotion because it states that the thalamus transmits the signal to the amygdala at the same time it sends a signal to the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in a simultaneous experience. Let's take a look at another example.

Say you are going on a date and you begin talking. You realize that this person is perfect for you. The Cannon-Bard theory states that you will be happy and also physiologically stimulated at the same time.

Zajonc-LeDoux Theory of Emotion

The Zajonc-Ledoux theory of emotion asserts that sometimes you feel something before you think about it. You might feel afraid when you hear a gunshot, before your brain realizes that it is a gunshot.

The Zajonc-Ledoux is a theory of emotion that states that certain emotions can be felt separately from physiologic responses. These emotions, such as fear, can be felt instantly in response to something startling.

If a loud sound happens at night, you may be immediately afraid, even before you process what happened.

Theories of Emotion - Key takeaways

  • One of the first theories of emotion was James and Lange's theory of emotion, which stated that emotion was based on our physiologic response, and our interpretation based on a situation.
  • The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion stated that physiologic response and emotion occur simultaneously.
  • The two-factor theory stated that people must attribute a physiologic response to an emotion.
  • Lazarus' theory is that emotion is experienced in 5 stages, and it depends on our ability to cope with situations.
  • The Zajonc-Ledoux theory of emotion asserts that sometimes you feel something before you think about it.
  • In the Cannon-Bard theory, the limbic system is responsible for physiological responses to emotion.

Frequently Asked Questions about Theories of Emotion

The basic theories of emotion include different theories of emotion from James-Lange's theory of emotion, Lazarus' theory of emotion, to the Cannon-Bard theory of emotion and more. 

Though psychologists agree that emotions associated with feelings have physiological, behavioral, and cognitive components, they disagree as to how the three components interact to produce feelings and actions.

Some of the main theories of emotion include the: Two-Factor Theory of Emotion, Cognitive-Appraisal Theory of Emotion, Lazarus Theory of Emotion, James-Lange Theory of Emotion, Opponent-Process Theory of Emotion, Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion and the Zajonc-LeDoux Theory of Emotion. 

The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion states that physiologic response and emotion are experienced simultaneously. If a person sees a bear, they will have an increased heart rate, and experience fear at the same time. This theory is also called the thalamic theory of emotion because it states that the thalamus transmits the signal to the amygdala at the same time it sends a signal to the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in a simultaneous experience.

The two-factor theory of emotion, also known as the Schachter-Singer theory of emotion, states that emotion comes from an interaction between physical arousal, as well as the person's cognitive label of that emotion.

Final Theories of Emotion Quiz

Question

What are some popular theories of emotion in psychology? 

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Answer

James and Lange

Cannon-Bard

Two-Factor

Zajonc-LeDoux 

Lazarus

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Question

The theory of emotion which states the physiologic response is felt first is the_____. 

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Answer

James and Lange's theory of emotion.

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Question

Previous to James and Lange's theory most theories stated that____.

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Answer

Emotion came first and the physiologic response came after.

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Question

What is an example of a physiologic response? 

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Answer

Increased Heart Rate 

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Question

Is anger an example of a physiologic response?

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Answer

No

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Question

What section of the autonomic nervous system is flight or fight?

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Answer

Sympathetic 

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Question

What section of the autonomic nervous system is relax and rest?

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Answer

Parasympathetic.

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Question

Which theory states that we feel emotion and experience physiologic responses simultaneously? 

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Answer

Cannon-Bard

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Question

Another name for the cannon-bard theory is the _____.

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Answer

Thalamic Theory of emotion. 

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Question

Another name for the two-factor theory is the _____.

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Answer

Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion.

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Question

The two-factor theory of emotion states that: 

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Answer

Emotion comes from an interaction between physical arousal as well as the person's cognitive label of that emotion.

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Question

How many stages are there to Lazarus' theory of emotion?

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Answer

5

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Question

What is the first stage of Lazuras' theory of emotion?

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Answer

Primary Appraisal 

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Question

What is the second stage of Lazuras' theory of emotion?


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Answer

Secondary Appraisal

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Question

What is the third stage of Lazuras' theory of emotion?


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Answer

Stress

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Question

What is the fourth stage of Lazuras' theory of emotion?


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Answer

Coping 

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Question

What is the fifth stage of Lazuras' theory of emotion?

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Answer

Reappraisal 

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Question

Who was Robert B. Zajonc? 

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Answer

Robert Zajonc was a Polish American whose works resided in the realm of Social Psychology. 

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Who is Joseph E. LeDoux? 

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Answer

LeDoux is an American neuroscientist. 

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Question

What is Zajonc's "Mere-Exposure Effect"? 

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Zajonc’s mere-exposure effect is the concept that people gravitate towards certain objects because of previous exposure to that object. 

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Give an example of Zajonc's "Mere-Exposure Effect". 

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Alice loves collecting dolls because her grandmother’s house always had dolls on display.

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Question

What is Zajonc's theory of "Social Facilitation"? 

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Answer

  • Zajonc theorized that people tend to perform better in the presence of others. 
  • Zajonc believed that if others were observing us, we would try our best to gain their acceptance or approval, and we would try harder if they were observing than we would if no one was observing.

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Question

Give an example of Zajonc's theory of "Social Facilitation". 

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JJ notices that she tends to study better when she is in the library with others around her.

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Question

What did LeDoux propose in his theory of "Dual Pathways"? 

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LeDoux proposes that there are two different pathways for experiencing emotion. LeDoux says that there is both a “low road” and a “high road” on this dual pathway; the “low road” bypasses thinking because the emotions are immediate, while the “high road” requires thinking to perceive the emotion.

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What did LeDoux propose in his theory of "Threat Responses"?  

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Answer

  • Ledoux proposed that people recognize threats after experiencing emotions of fear and anxiety.
  • Ledoux theorized that people don’t always recognize threats immediately. They need to use rational thinking skills before they can decide if the threat is legitimate. 

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Question

Define cognition: 

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Answer

Cognitions are thoughts or how we process our experiences and sensations.

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Define emotions: 

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Emotions are psychological states associated with anger, joy, envy, love, etc.

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What did Zajonc theorize about emotion and cognition (his theory)? 

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Answer

Zajonc theorized that emotion can be separate from cognition.

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How did Zajonc defend his personal beliefs about emotion not requiring cognition? 

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Zajonc defended his beliefs by asserting that:

  • Not all emotions require purposeful thinking.

  • Some emotions can occur without a cognitive analysis of them.

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Question

What are subjective experiences? 

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Subjective experiences refer to the impact on human experience caused by internal emotional and cognitive processes.

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What was Zajonc-LeDoux's theory of emotion? 

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Zajonc and LeDoux theorized that some emotions are processed before cognition can occur, while others come after cognition.

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Question

What is one pattern for the emotional process? (Answer will be put into steps). #1

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Answer

  1. A stimulus is introduced
  2. Emotion is felt
  3. The brain works on understanding the emotion

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What is one pattern for the emotional process? (Answer will be put into steps). #2

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Answer

  1. A stimulus is introduced
  2. The brain decides how to feel about the stimuli 
  3. Emotion is felt

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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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Question

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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Question

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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Question

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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Question

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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Question

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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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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Question

What does the James-Lange theory propose?

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Answer

Lexi started to feel the physiological effects of fear such as an increased heart rate and perspiration. These physical changes caused her to experience fear as an emotion. 

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Question

What two scientist came up with James-Lange theory?

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Answer

William James and Carl Lange

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