Friday, August 10, 2007

"Excitation" (Theories of Arousal and Emotion)

Today's song integrates two similar, though not identical, theories positing that physiological arousal in the context of situational cues can lead to (or accentuate) individuals' emotional states.

Schachter and Singer's (1962) studies are probably among the best known in social psychology. Aside from those in a control group, participants were given an injection of epinephrine to get them physiologically aroused. Different subgroups of participants were either forewarned of the correct arousal symptoms they would experience (in which case they would have no trouble figuring out why they felt as they did) or not given an accurate warning (either no information or wrong information). The latter two groups would presumably feel aroused, but not know why.

In different versions of the Schachter and Singer study, after the injections and instructions, participants interacted with a confederate (actor hired by the investigators, also known as a "stooge") who role-played a rampage of either anger or euphoria. The hypothesis was that those participants who felt aroused and had no accurate explanation for why they did, would misattribute their arousal to the emotion being exhibited by the confederate and label themselves as experiencing the same emotion as the confederate. Results were largely supportive of the hypothesis.

Zillmann's excitation transfer theory, as noted above, is similar. The most succinct delineation of the differences between the Schachter-Singer and Zillmann conceptualizations, to my mind, comes from Geen (1990):

...Schachter and Singer dealt with arousal that occurs at the same time as some emotionally relevant stimulus which provides the cognition whereby the arousal is labeled. Zillmann (1978) has described a general situation in which two arousing conditions occur in sequence. Autonomic arousal does not dissipate immediately upon termination of eliciting conditions... Given this fact, Zillmann has reasoned that if two arousing events are separated by a short amount of time, some of the arousal caused by the first event may become transferred to the second event and added to the arousal caused by the latter... (pp. 116-117).

Zillmann has used tasks such as having participants ride an exercise bicycle to create arousal. This fact is alluded to in the following song. The rest of the details pertain to the Schachter and Singer studies.


Lyrics by Alan Reifman
(May be sung to the tune of “Good Vibrations,” Wilson/Love for the Beach Boys)

Schaaaaaach-ter… and Singer gave ep-i-neph-rine,
While Zillmann had his subjects exercise,
Could the arousal be interpreted,
So the context frames what emotions arise?

Stooge giving mood manipulation,
Anger condition shows big frustration,
Subjects transferring the excitation,
When given no information,

Ex- Ex- Ex- Excitation,
Ex- Ex- Ex- Excitation,

Parrrrr-adigm (SLOW)… won’t work with true disclosure,
Of effects of the arousing agent,
Key is setting up a contradiction,
With stooge actions, the label’s consistent,

Stooge giving mood manipulation,
Euphoric shows exhilaration,
Subjects transferring the excitation,
When given misinformation,

Ex- Ex- Ex- Excitation,
Ex- Ex- Ex- Excitation...



The various studies by Schachter and Singer, and Zillmann, are obviously pretty elaborate. I hope that my introductory description provides a good starting point for discussion of the studies. In the references below, I suggest further sources for examining the studies.

As a side note, another popular study within the arousal-emotion framework is that by Dutton and Aron (1974; summarized here), in which males' attraction to a female confederate was tested either after a male had crossed a high, shaky, scary bridge or a low, solid bridge. Even though a misattribution mechanism is sometimes invoked to account for the findings, an article by Allen and colleagues (1989) appears to put such an explanation of the bridge study in "troubled waters."


Further Reading

Allen, J., Kenrick, D.T., Linder, D.E., & McCall, M. (1989). Arousal and attraction: A response facilitation alternative to misattribution and negative reinforcement models. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 261-270.

Dutton, D.G. and Aron, A.P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 510-517

Geen, R.G. (1990). Human aggression. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press.

Reisenzein, R. (1983). The Schachter theory of emotion: Two decades later. Psychological Bulletin, 94, 239-264.

Schachter, S. (1964). The interaction of cognitive and physiological determinants of emotional state (pp. 49-79). In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. New York: Academic Press.

Schachter, S., & Singer, J. (1962). Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological Review, 69, 379-399.

Zillmann, D. (1971). Excitation transfer in communication-mediated aggressive behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 419-434.

Zillmann, D. (1978). Attribution and misattribution of excitatory reactions. In J.H. Harvey, W.J. Ickes, & R.F. Kidd (Eds.), New directions in attribution research (Vol. 2, pp. 335-368). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Zillmann, D. (1983). Transfer of excitation in emotional behavior (pp. 215-240). In J.T. Cacioppo & R.E. Petty (Eds.), Social psychophysiology: A sourcebook. Hillsdale, NJ: Guilford.

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