Physiological schachter arousal and assessment

Abraham McLaughlin
Physiological schachter arousal and assessment

Emotions is a subject that has haunted humans for thousands of years. Buddhism is a good example of this. His theories date back 2,600 years. Darwin, 200 years ago also contributed his theories. Modern psychology has been investigating the subject of emotions for decades. What are they? Where do they come from? Why do they occur? What is their purpose? Stanley Schachter, an American social psychologist of the 20th century, also investigated this topic and his theories went down in the history of psychology..

As will be discussed in more depth in the article, Schachter addressed the subject of physiological arousal and introduced the assessment of the situation so that the emotion was complete. Throughout the article his theory will be detailed. In this way, we will know a little better how our emotions work through one of the most prominent authors.


  • Schachter, arousal and valuation
  • Emotional states in everyday life
  • Schachter's propositions
  • Criticisms of Schachter's theory
    • Bibliography

Schachter, arousal and valuation

Stanley Schachter proposed that an emotional state is the result of the physiological arousal and an adequate cognition for the arousal state. But what is the physiological arousal? It's about physiological activation. Thus, according to Schachter, in order for us to fully feel an emotion, we will need to be activated and assess the situation. As Alberto Mesa (2007), professor of psychology, states: "whoever feels joy, sadness, fear, etc. is not determined by the pattern of body change that has occurred in a situation, but by how it is interpreted".

According to Schachter, without evaluating the situation, emotion is not possible. Therefore, when sufficient information is not available, the author affirms that the need for evaluation occurs. Through this need, the person tries to understand and label the body changes in relation to what is happening at that moment. For example, if in an experiment different subjects are injected with adrenaline (but are told that it is serum), they will feel palpitations and activation but do not really know why they feel this way. This ignorance will lead them to seek an explanation for its activation, so they will inquire into the information they have available..

Emotional states in everyday life

As described, emotional states would be the result of the interaction between a physiological arousal state and cognitive interpretation. Let's imagine that we are sleeping. It's three in the morning and we hear a roar from the kitchen. We feel our heart race, we begin to sweat, our breathing quickens, our muscles tense, etc. At that point, we interpret the situation. For example, if we have a cat at home, we may think that it was the cat, but if we live alone, we may think that they have entered to steal. As a result of this interpretation and assessment of the available information, we feel the emotion, such as fear..

Schachter's propositions

Schachter established three empirical propositions to test his theory:

  1. Because arousal is nonspecific, we will need to explain the cause of the bodily changes we undergo through cognitive interpretation of the situation. As Schachter himself defined: "to the extent that cognitive factors are powerful determinants of emotional states, it could be anticipated that the same state of physiological arousal could be labeled as joy or fury or any of a wide variety of emotional labels depending on the cognitive aspects of the situation ".
  2. When the cause of the arousal is known, the needs for evaluation do not arise. The author states that "given a state of physiological arousal for which an individual has a completely appropriate explanation, no assessment needs will arise".
  3. Although the arousal is nonspecific, its importance is remarkable, since without it the emotions would not occur. Schachter gave the following example: "An individual may, for example, be aware that he is in a situation of great danger but for some reason (pharmacological or surgical) remains in a state of physiological stillness. Will he feel the emotional experience of fear? ? The present formulation considers emotion as a joint function of a state of physiological arousal and of an appropriate cognition, and suggests, in principle, that it would not feel it ".

Criticisms of Schachter's theory

Schachter's theory has received some criticism, especially his research. Some authors have criticized that the researcher's experiments to prove his theory were a bit artificial. The main criticism affirms that the conjunction of arousal and cognitive evaluation is carried out immediately and not so delayed as it appears in Schachter's experiments..

Alberto Acosta (2007), affirms that "these are everyday situations in which the explanatory needs that Schachter postulated are completed without effort. Furthermore, these attributions are usually correct. In laboratory situations, however, the chain of processes is very forced ". Despite the fact that in Schachter's experiments physiological activation and assessment arose in a more delayed way, his theory remains valid..


Mesa, A. (2007). Psychology of emotion. Granada: Editions Sider S.C.

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