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To what extent do cognitive and biological factors interact in emotion?

·         Emotions are physiological signals as a reaction to external stimuli, and feelings (conscious interpretation of the emotion) arise when the brain interprets the stimuli.

·         The emotion “fear” is a useful survival mechanism as it allows animals (and humans) to react quickly to any possible sign of danger by starting the “fight or flight” reaction. In humans, cognitive factors such as appraisal (analysis) may help to modulate physiological and psychological reactions to stimuli.

·         Emotional arousal is a form of stress that activates the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This is a useful survival mechanism. Memory of a fearful experience is stored in the cortex (explicit memory) and the emotional memory of the experience is stored via the amygdala (implicit memory). Normally humans can control irrational fear reactions but not always, and in some cases fear may be elicited without conscious control as in panic attacks.

·         Anxiety, phobia, panic disorders, and PTSD in humans indicate a malfunction in the brain’s ability to control fear reactions. Humans with damage to the amygdala do not experience fear in dangerous situations and this may endanger survival.

Two-Factor Theory of Emotion (TFT)

Schachter and Singer (1962)

Emotion depends on two factors…

1.Physiological arousal
2.Cognitive interpretation of that arousal (their mind labels it).

•While the strength of the physiological arousal determines the intensity of the emotional experience, its interpretation determines which particular emotion is experienced.

Study to use: Aron and Dutton (1974)

First let’s look at biology and emotion….

1. LeDoux’s theory of the emotional brain (1999)

Humans’ emotional reactions are flexible due to evolution. Learning to detect and respond to danger is important for survival (e.g. an instant response is needed in dangerous situations). Humans have also evolved “emotional feeling”, i.e. a conscious experience of the emotion which helps to evaluate the level of danger before a response

Two routes from sensory stimulus to Amygdala

1.    The short route The amygdala reacts immediately to sensory input and activates response systems (e.g. the physiological stress response “fight or flight”). This is very useful in the case of immediate danger where a quick reaction can make the difference between life and death.

2.    The long route The sensory input goes via the sensory cortex to the hippocampus. This route involves evaluation of the stimulus and consideration of an appropriate response. This could link to the concept “cognitive appraisal” (Lazarus, 1975).


Study to use: LeDoux (1999)

Now let’s look at cognition and emotion….

 2. Appraisal theory

Lazarus (1975)

·         According to appraisal theory, cognitive factors can modulate stress responses, i.e. the physiological and psychological reactions involved in the experience.

·         Appraisal can be seen as an evaluation of a situation, including evaluation of one’s psychological and material resources to cope with the stressful event.

Study to use: Speisman et al. (1964)

Summary of the interaction of emotion and cognition:

Cognitive and biological factors do, to a large extent, interact in emotion, but in complex ways that are not yet well known. Emotions may influence cognitive processes such as memory, and cognitive processes such as appraisal may influence emotions, but little is known about the exact workings of the physiological correlates of emotion.