30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
James–Lange theory of emotion
Decision Making & Emotions
The letter lands with a soft thud on the doormat. You rip open the envelope, scan the text and there it is, the crucial line announcing you’ve got the job. Joy rises up causing a huge smile to spread across your face. Wait a minute. According to the James—Lange theory of emotion — proposed independently by the great US psychologist William James and the Danish physiologist Carl Lange — this description has it back to front. James and Lange argued that a stimulus, in this case the good news, triggers a physiological reaction, such as a racing heartbeat and the spread of a smile, and it is these bodily and facial changes that cause the emotion, in this case joy. Writing in the late nineteenth century James gave the example of a confrontation with a bear. We don’t become frightened, tremble and then run, he argued. Rather, we tremble and run, and it’s those bodily changes that cause us to feel frightened. The James—Lange theory was challenged in the early twentieth century by the physiologist Walter Cannon. He conducted grisly experiments showing that dogs still exhibited emotions even after he’d severed their spinal cords thereby preventing bodily feedback from reaching their brains.
Emotions don’t cause bodily changes, rather bodily changes cause emotions.
The James—Lange theory has received support in recent years from research showing that the mere act of smiling can lead people to feel happier. What’s more, a 2008 study of women who had undergone cosmetic botox treatment found that they experienced less activity than usual in the emotional centres of their brain when they pulled an angry expression. Scientists proposed that the botox had paralysed some of their facial muscles, reducing the emotional influence of bodily feedback.
DAMASIO’S EMOTIONAL DECISION MAKING
If a bear comes charging towards you, keep smiling and you won’t feel frightened at all. And who knows, maybe the bear will smile back.