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Schachter's Two Factor Theory of Emotion

Over the course of the twentieth century a number of scholars have stepped forward to develop and articulate their theories of human behavior. Although many of these theories have been proven ineffective or incomplete, a number have remained in tact, but obscured by the larger processes of social science and psychology. Such is the case with Schachter’s Two Factor Theory of Emotion. Although this theory, and the empirical research behind it represent a prominent paradigm of human behavior, in many circles of research the theory has not been garnered must critical analysis.

Schachter's Two Factor Theory of Emotion

With the realization that Schachter’s Two Factor Theory of Emotion is a salient albeit obscure theory that accurately describes an integral part of human behavior, there is an impetus for the student to examine the development of the theory and how it can be applied in clinical practice. To this end, this investigation considers the current academic literature concerning Schachter’s Two Factor Theory of Emotion. By examining what has been written about the theory, its utility and efficacy, it will be possible to draw some conclusions about its use in a professional setting. Further through a careful examination of this theory a greater elucidation of the complexity of human behavior will be gleaned.

Before Schachter’s Two Factor Theory of Emotion can be applied to the process of clinical practice, a working definition and a complete understanding of the concepts involved with the process must be delineated. Seeking first to define the theory in general, Authors note that Schachter’s Two Factor Theory is predicated on the idea that human emotions are comprised of two fundamental parts: physiological arousal and cognitive recognition. According to these authors Schachter postulated that in order for an individual to experience an emotion some form of physical arousal must first occur—i.e. increased heartbeat, increased blood pressure, perspiration. Once physiological arousal occurs, the individual is then able to cognitively classify the emotion as it occurs.

Authors go on to argue that the assumptions made by Schachter are based on three critical underlying ideologies. These include:

  • Emotional states are not associated with unique arousal states. In other words, physiological reactions are nonspecific or diffuse in emotion.
  • The individual is acutely aware of nontrivial elevations in the level of diffuse physiological arousal he experiences, mainly through interoceptive cues.
  • Awareness of a heightened arousal state actuates evaluative needs in the individual; that is, it produces motivational pressures that act on an individual in such a state to understand and label his bodily feelings.

These three ideologies serve as the basis for the professional to better understand the unique connection between physiology and the development of emotions.

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