The Look of Love – Two-factor Theory of Emotion

The Look of Love explores some of the ways in which we identify our physiological arousal with different emotions, depending on surrounding stimulus.

In 1974, Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron conducted a study which led to the ‘misattribution of arousal’ theory. This was, in fact, inspired by an earlier study by Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer which hypothesised the ‘two-factor theory of emotion’. That is the theory, that every emotional state is informed by two things: physiological arousal and a cognitive label. Put simply, our emotions are not explained solely by our internal physiological mechanisms but we give them meaning by using the available surrounding data to us.

Using shots of epinephrine, increasing respiration, blood pressure and heart rate, or a placebo, participants were divided into four groups: epinephrine informed, epinephrine misinformed, epinephrine ignorant, and placebo. Another researcher, posing as a subject, would then interact with the participants and mimic feelings of either euphoria or anger. In both cases, those participants who were given shots of epinephrine but were either ignorant of the side-effects or misinformed about them were the most suggestible in terms of their emotional state.

This led to the conclusion that if we know the reasons for our physiological arousal then we do not search out other meanings. BUT if we are ignorant to the causes of our arousal, our brains will rely on external cues to label that emotion. As such this can cause a mistaken understanding of our own bodily responses to surrounding stimuli.

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