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Two-Factor Theory of Emotion


Explanations > Theories > Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 



When trying to understand what kind of person we are, we first watch what we do and feel and then deduce our nature from this. This means that the first step is to experience physiological arousal. We then try to find a label to explain our feelings, usually by looking at what we are doing and what else is happening at the time of the arousal. Thus we don’t just feel angry, happy or whatever: we experience feeling and then decide what they mean.

The sequence thus is as follows:

Event ==> arousal ==> reasoning ==> emotion

This is notable as it places emotion as a cognitive act (albeit subconscious) rather than a deeper state (this is the place of arousal).


Schachter and Singer (1962) gave some people a mild stimulant and others a placebo (on a pretence of testing vitamins). They then gave them a questionnaire containing rather personal questions. A stooge in the room got angry at the questionnaire and the people who had been given the stimulant (and who hence felt aroused) got even angrier (the people with the placebo were not that angry).

Dutton and Aron (1974) had an attractive woman ask for interviews of young men both on a swaying rope bridge, 200 ft above a river, and also on terra firma. A part way through the interview, she gives them her phone number. Over 60% from the rope bridge called her back, versus 30% from terra firma. They had interpreted their arousal from fear on the bridge as attraction to the woman.


When we are feeling unwell, we often will deduce the illness from the symptoms. From then on, hypochondria can take hold and further symptoms psychosomatically appear to confirm our conclusions.

So what?

Using it

If people are getting aroused (perhaps due to something you are doing), give them a plausible explanation. "If you are feeling a bit odd right now, it is probably because you are getting excited by what this product can do for you."

See also

James-Lange Theory of Emotion, Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion, Cognitive Appraisal Theories of Emotion, Informational Social Influence, Selective Perception



Schachter and Singer (1962), Schachter (1964), Dutton and Aron (1974)


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