S. Schachter; J. E. Singer

“Cognitive, Social, and Psychological Determinants of Emotional States”

Review by Tim Knepper, 2001

Schachter, S.; Singer, J. E. “Cognitive, Social, and Psychological Determinants of Emotional States.” Psychological Review 69 (1962): 379-399.

A classic study on the effect of set and setting on emotional experience that has generated much debate.

Subjects were administered either epinephrine (adrenaline) or a placebo within the context of a purported test of the effects of a vitamin compound on vision. The subjects in the experimental group were further divided into three groups: The first group was (truthfully) told what physiological effects to expect (increased respiration and heart rate, slight muscle tremors, and an “edgy” feeling); the second group was (un-truthfully) told to expect the physiological effects of numbness, itching and perhaps a headache; and the third group was given no information whatsoever concerning physiological effects. “Stooges” were then placed in each of these three groups (as well as in the control group) as a means of offering “contextual cues” to the participants (the stooges reacted with either euphoria or anger). Results of the study were as predicted: Subjects in both the control group and the group that had been given correct information regarding anticipated effects did not use contextual cues to label their emotions; but, on the other hand, subjects in both the misinformed group and the uninformed group tended to interpret their emotions as congruent with the contextual cues – as euphoric when the stooges acted euphoric, and as angry when the stooges acted angry. “Hence, Schachter and Singer argued that, given a situation of unanticipated physiological arousal, external cues (in this case, the stooges’ feigned emotional behavior) influence the labeling of what emotion is occurring – angry, happy, or sad, depending upon the context for unanticipated physiological arousal” (Hood et al., The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach, 193). Moreover, “the importance for a theory of religious experience is that physiological processes per se cannot account for emotional experiences; cognitions must also occur, at least in ambiguous circumstances” (Ibid.).