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Research on Human Emotions

Research psychologists have been studying emotion for a long time; in fact it is one of the oldest areas of research. Several classic theories of emotion exist:

James-Lange Theory

According to this theory, actions precede emotions and the brain interprets said actions as emotions. A situation occurs and the brain interprets the situation, causing a characteristic physiological response. This may include any or all of the following: perspiration, heart rate elevation, facial and gestural expression. These reflexive responses occur before the person is aware that he is experiencing an emotion; only when the brain cognitively assesses the physiology is it labeled as an "emotion".

Cannon-Bard Theory

Cannon and Bard opposed the James-Lange theory by stating that the emotion is felt first, and then actions follow from cognitive appraisal. In their view, the thalamus and amygdala play a central role; interpreting an emotion-provoking situation and simultaneously sending signals to the ANS (autonomic nervous system) and to the cerebral cortex which interprets the situation cognitively.

Schachter-Singer Theory

Schachter and Singer agreed with James and Lange -- that the experience of emotions arises from the cognitive labeling of physiological sensation. However, they also believed that this was not enough to explain the more subtle differences in emotion self-perception, i.e. the difference between anger and fear. Thus, they proposed that an individual will gain information from the immediate situation (ex: a danger is nearby) and use it to qualitatively label the sensation.

There are many more theories than these, with new ones being refined almost every day. Current thinking is that emotion involves a dynamic state that consists of both cognitive and physical events.

We do not conduct basic studies about human emotion in our lab, but many of the things we build offer an opportunity to learn more about human emotion. Some projects that fall into this category are listed below.

Research projects in human emotion


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