Schachter And Singer’s Theory Of Emotion

Schachter and Singer's Theory of Emotion

In basic psychology, there are many theories that try to explain the origin of emotions (psychological, cognitive, biological, social theories,…). In this article we will talk about one in particular, Schachter and Singer’s Theory of Emotion..

It is a bifactor theory that involves two factors: physiological activation and cognitive attribution. Let’s see what it consists of, studies carried out by the same authors and what their main postulates are.

Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion: characteristics

Schachter and Singer’s Theory of Emotion establishes that the origin of emotions comes, on the one hand, from the interpretation we make of the organism’s peripheral physiological responses, and from the cognitive evaluation of the situation, on the other, which causes such physiological responses.

What determines the intensity of the emotion that the person feels is the way you interpret such physiological responses; On the other hand, the quality of the emotion is determined by the way in which you cognitively evaluate the situation that has provoked such responses.

Thus, while the intensity can be low, medium or high, the quality is the type of emotion (for example fear, sadness, joy,…).

Related studies and research

To test Schachter and Singer’s Theory of Emotion, the authors themselves conducted an experiment in 1962 and published their results. What they did was give an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline)a hormone that increases heart rate and blood pressure, to a group of volunteer subjects.

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Subsequently, they formed 4 experimental groups with these subjects at random (all of equal sizes). While 2 of the groups were informed that the injection would cause some physiological effects on their body, the other 2 groups were not given this information.

On the other hand, one of the 2 informed groups was put in a situation that made them happy, while the other group of informed subjects were put in a situation that made them angry. Furthermore, the same was done with the other 2 groups of subjects with the no information condition; For one, a happy situation was induced and for the other, an angry situation.


What was seen in the results was that Schachter and Singer’s Theory of Emotion could be confirmed, in general terms. This was because the subjects informed of the effects of the injection were not likely to feel especially angry or sadsince they attributed their physiological reaction to the effects of the adrenaline injection itself.

It can be thought that their cognitive evaluation of the information that had been provided motivated them to think that the body’s physiological reactions came from the injection itself.

However, in the case of subjects not informed of the effects of adrenaline, the “opposite” occurred; they did experience physiological responses (activation) (same as the previous group), but they did not attribute such responses to the effects of the injection, since they had not been informed of this.


It can be hypothesized that the uninformed subjects, not having any explanation for their physiological activation, attributed it to some emotion. They would look for this emotion in the emotion “available” at that moment; for example, the joy or anger induced by the researchers.

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When they found it, they found “their” explanation: then they adjusted their emotion to the situation; In the case of the uninformed subjects in a happy situation, they behaved in a happy way, and claimed to feel that way. However, the uninformed subjects in an angry situation reacted with anger and reported feeling that way too.

Principles of the theory

Also in relation to Schachter and Singer’s Theory of Emotion, Schachter himself, in 1971, carried out subsequent work, and established three principles that attempt to explain human emotional behavior:

1. Label emotions

When a state of physiological activation (physiological responses) is experienced, and the person experiencing it does not have an explanation at that moment for such activation, What it will do is “label” said state and describe what it feels in relation to the emotion. that is available to her at that moment (or, in other words, whatever emotion she feels at that moment).

Thus, the state of physiological activation itself can be labeled as “sadness”, “fear” or “joy”, for example (or whatever emotion it may be), depending on the cognitive evaluation of the situation that has generated such activation.

2. When labeling is not carried out

The second principle of Schachter and Singer’s Theory of Emotion states that, if the individual has a complete explanation for the physiological activation they are feeling (for example, “I feel this way because I have been injected with adrenaline, or because I have consumed it is not necessary to carry out any type of cognitive evaluation of the situation.

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In this case, it will be difficult for the person to “label” the emotion they feel as they would in the previous case.

3. Experience physiological activation

The third assumption says that, faced with the same cognitive situations, the individual will describe/label his feelings as emotions (or react emotionally) only when he experiences a state of physiological activation (this, as we know, involves a series of physiological responses, for example increased heart rate).