While Plutchik emphasized the role of innate factors and biology, Stanley Schachter (1964) proposed that our environment as well as thought processes contribute to the type of emotional experience that we have in any situation.
According to Schachter, the emotion we recognize we are experiencing comes from a number of interacting events.
First, there is some trigger in the environment such as the sudden sight of a very large spider as you reach across to pick up a log of wood. This triggers bodily changes which the person senses such as a rapid heart beat and muscles tightening. As the patterns of physiological change are similar, the person must make an appraisal of the situation and figure out which particular emotion they are feeling.
This decision is based on memory of past events in similar situations and their interpretation of what they are feeling. In the case of the spider, the reaction is likely to be fear.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is an example of a high arousal situation.
An interesting experiment was conducted by Dutton and Aron (1974)) The subjects were a groups of unsuspecting males aged 18 - 35 who were visiting the Capilano Canyon in Canada. An attractive female experimenter approached the men and asked them some questions as part of a survey she was doing on scenic attractions. One of the things they were asked to do was to invent a short story based on a picture of a woman that could have been interpreted in different ways. This was later scored for the amount of sexual content which was then taken to reflect the amount of attraction felt towards the interviewer.
Some men were interviewed on an extremely unstable suspension bridge 230 feet above the Canyon (seen as a high arousal situation) and others on a solid wooden bridge over a small stream(low arousal) The men on the unstable suspension bridge had stories containing significantly more sexual imagery than those on the low bridge.
According to the Schachter theory, the reason for this is that the men were experiencing physiological arousal (probably because of the dangerous bridge) but they interpreted this as attraction towards the female interviewer (their cognitive appraisal of the situation. Dare we say, like many theories in psychology today, this is a controversial one. Despite that, it suggests some tricks you might employ to get someone attracted to you!
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The significance of this theory lies in our evaluation of a situation rather than the situation itself. This can be related to stress. It has been argued that the experience of negative stress is usually described in ways associated with emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, grief and jealousy. These have been described as some researchers as stress emotions. How an individual appraises a situation will affect the emotion they experience. This suggests that it might be possible to reduce the impact of stress by changing people's cognitive appraisal of a particular situation. This might explain why in some situations, jokes can be used to defuse a difficult situation, or to try and reduce the impact of a stressful situation. It also explains why people's ability to cope can vary in different situations.
According to an article in Psychology Today (August 1993 p. 18), black humour used in the workplace by people in distressing jobs such as in the emergency room can act as a defense against frightening things and enable them to master their environment and maintain a focus on the situation.