Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion

In basic psychology, there are many theories that attempt to explain the origin of emotions (psychological, cognitive, biological, social theories, …). In this article, we will talk about it in particular, the theory of emotion of Schachter and Singer.

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

    Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion: characteristics

    Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion states that the origin of emotions comes, on the one hand, from our interpretation of the peripheral physiological responses of the body, and from the cognitive assessment of the situation, on the other hand, which gives rise to such physiological responses.

    What determines the intensity of the emotion felt by the person is how he interprets these physiological responses; on the other hand, the quality of the emotion is determined by the way in which it cognitively evaluates the situation which provoked such responses.

    Thus, if the intensity can be low, medium or high, the quality is the type of emotion (ex: fear, sadness, joy, …).

      Related studies and research

      To test Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion, the same authors 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, in a group of volunteers.

      Subsequently, they formed 4 experimental groups with these randomized subjects (all of the same size). While 2 of the groups were told that the injection would cause physiological effects on their body, the other 2 groups were not given this information.

      In contrast, in one of the 2 informed groups, they were put in a situation that made them feel happy, while in the other group of informed subjects, they were put in a situation that made them feel happy. To get angry. In addition, the same thing was done with the 2 other groups of subjects on the condition of not having any information; one was induced into a happy situation and the other into an anger situation.


      What was seen in the results is that Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion could be confirmed in general terms. This was the case because the subjects reported the effects of the injection. they weren’t inclined to feel particularly angry or sadAs they attributed their physiological reaction to the effect of the adrenaline injection itself.

      One would think that their cognitive appreciation of the information given to them made them think that the body’s physiological reactions were from the injection itself.

      However, in the case of subjects not informed of the effects of adrenaline, the “opposite” occurred; yes they have experienced physiological responses (Activation) (same as the previous group), but did not attribute such responses to the effects of the injection, as they were not informed.


      It can be hypothesized that uninformed subjects, having no explanation for their physiological activation, attributed it to a certain emotion. This emotion would be sought in the emotion “available” at that time; for example, the joy or anger induced by researchers.

      When they found her, they found “her” explanation: then they adapted their emotion to the situation; in the case of uninformed subjects in a situation of joy, they behaved happily and pretended to feel that way. However, uninformed subjects in anger situation responded with anger and claimed to feel this as well.

      Principles of Theory

      Also in relation to Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion, Schachter himself, in 1971, later worked and established three principles that attempt to explain human emotional behavior:

      1. Label the emotions

      When a state of physiological activation (physiological responses) is experienced and the person experiencing it has no explanation at that time for such activation, what he will do is “label” this state and describe what he feels in relation to the emotion that he is available to her at this time (or, in other words, the emotion he is feeling at that time).

      Thus, the very state of physiological activation can be qualified as “sadness”, “fear” or “joy”, for example (or emotion whatever), depending on the cognitive assessment of the situation that such activation has engendered. .

      2. When no labeling is done

      The second principle of Schachter and Singer’s theory of emotion states that in the event that the individual has a full explanation of the physiological activation he feels (e.g., “I feel this way because I have injected adrenaline, or because I used drugs X ‘), then it is not necessary to do any cognitive assessment of the situation.

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

      3. Experiment with physiological activation

      The third hypothesis states that, when faced with equal 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, implies a series of responses, e.g. increased heart rate).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Aguado, L. (2005). Emotion, affection and motivation. A process approach. Publishing Alliance. Madrid.
      • Fernández, EG; Garcia, B .; Jimenez, deputy; Martín, MD and Domínguez, FJ (2010). Psychology of emotion. Editorial Editorial Ramón Areces. Madrid.
      • Reeve, J. (2010). Motivation and emotion. 5th edition. McGraw-Hill / Inter-American. Mexico.

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