Cannon-Bard theory of emotions

Emotions are psychophysiological reactions that we all experience in our daily life: joy, sadness, anger … To a large extent, they govern our decisions and lead us to choose paths and reject others. They also influence our behavior and thoughts.

The genesis of emotions has been explained from many points of view: biological, physiological, psychological … Here we will know the Cannon-Bard theory, A psychophysiological theory which proposes that emotion prepares the individual to act and to adapt to the environment.

    Bradford Cannon and Philip Bard

    In the early 1900s, Walter Bradford Cannon (1871-1945), a physiologist and scientist at Harvard University, proposed a theory explaining the origin of emotions. In addition, he interpreted a series of critiques of the previous and dominant theory of the moment, the James-Lange Peripheral Theory.

    On the other hand, Philip Bard (1898 – 1977), an American physiologist, also joined the Cannon theory, and together they formulated the Cannon-Bard theory.

    Cannon-Bard theory: characteristics

    The theory of Cannon (1927) and Bard (1938) is based on a psychophysiological approach. According to the authors, emotion precedes behavior and prepares the body to perform a fight-or-flight response in environmental emergency situations. For example, “we cry because we feel sad”.

    In other words, emotion arises before physiological responses. After the emotion and from there, an alarm reaction is triggered in front of these extreme situations.

    On the other hand, Cannon and Bard raise this topic he will always tend to seek balance and adapt to the environment to situations.

    Cannon and Bard, through their experiments, emphasized the role of the brain in producing physiological responses and feelings. These experiments largely supported his theory of emotion.

    In addition, they viewed the emotion as a cognitive event. They argued that all physical reactions are the same for different emotions, and therefore, based on physiological signals (only), we could not distinguish some emotions from others.

      Precedents: peripheral theory of James-Lange

      Before the Cannon-Bard theory, James-Lange prevailed. This is the peripheral theory of James-Lange. According to this, the perception of bodily changes generates the emotional experience In other words, following the example above, it would be “to be sad because we cry”.

      According to James-Lange, the sequence would be as follows: we observe a stimulus (for example, a sad face), this information is sent to the cortex, then visceral and motor physiological responses appear (we cry). Then, the bark perceives the sensations of crying and generates the sensation (in this case, sadness).

      Cannon-Bard Experiences

      Through their experiments, Cannon and Bard determined that the perception of the emotion aroused by the stimuli gives rise to two phenomena: The conscious experience of emotion and general physiological changes. This is all because the thalamus sends its impulses to the cerebral cortex and the hypothalamus.

      Effects of emotions

      On the other hand, Cannon-Bard theory asserts that conscious emotional experiences, physiological responses, and behavior are relatively independent events.

      Thus, according to the authors, emotional stimuli have two independent excitatory effects: on the one hand they cause a feeling of emotion in the brain, and on the other hand, expression of emotion in the autonomic and somatic nervous systems.

      Reviews of Cannon and Bard in James-Lange

      The Cannon-Bard theory makes a number of critiques of the James-Lange theory. These are:

      1. Body changes are not essential for perceiving emotions

      Additionally, Cannon and Bard claim that cutting afferent pathways does not produce changes in emotional responses.

      2. There are no specific emotion patterns

      According to Cannon and Bard, what really happens is that certain bodily changes are similar for different emotions.

      3. Sometimes bodily sensations arise after the emotion

      That is, the bodily sensations, being slower, often manifest themselves later in the experience of the emotion (which can be immediate).

      4. Voluntary activation of the organization

      When the body it is activated voluntarily, There is no real emotion.

      5. Diffuse and general activation

      The Cannon-Bard theory proposes a diffuse and general autonomous activation (it is therefore a central theory with a substrate in the thalamus); instead, the James-Lange theory, which is peripheral, holds that each emotional state causes specific physiological changes.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Aguado, L. (2005). Emotion, affection and motivation. Cap. 1: Introduction to the study of emotion (17-48). Alliance: Madrid.
      • Díaz, A. (2010). Theories of emotions. Innovation and educational experiences, 29.
      • Fernández, EG; Garcia, B .; Jimenez, deputy; Martín, MD and Domínguez, FJ (2010). Psychology of emotion. Ramón Areces University Publishing House: Madrid.
      • The psychology notes, seu. (2013). Cannon-Bard theory of emotions. Online resources for psychology students.

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