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James Lange Theory

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James Lange Theory

Emotions are our way of experiencing the world around us. Emotions allow us to live, laugh, and love. Without our emotions, we would have no motivation in life as the construct and feeling of happiness would have no meaning to us. Life would simply be the survival of the fittest. Many theories explain the basis behind emotions; however, research on emotions is an ever-expanding avenue. In this article, we will be discussing the James-Lange Theory of emotion to gain insight into the complex phenomenon of emotion.

  • What is the James-Lange theory of emotion?
  • What is an example of the James-Lange theory of emotion?
  • What are criticisms of the James-Lange theory of emotion?

James Lange Theory, mother and daughter sitting in water smiling, StudySmarterHappiness, Pixabay.com

James Lange Theory of Emotion

The James-Lange theory of emotion suggests that physical changes occur in response to a given stimulus, influencing our emotions. In other words, our emotions result from physical changes occurring in our bodies. William James and Carl Lange first devised the James-Lange theory in the 1880s. These two psychologists proposed that physiological changes in the body occur before conscious emotional experiences.

Differences

What is rarely discussed is that William James and Carl Lange had two distinct theories behind the emotion. James believed that the nervous system's responses to stimuli were the bases of creating conscious emotional experiences, while Lange thought that emotion occurs due to our hearts.

Either way, both scientists believed that emotion does not start with a conscious experience of emotion. Instead, the body's response to a given stimulus was the source of conscious emotions.

James Lange Theory, a person sitting on a sofa, StudySmarterFear, Pixabay.com

James Lange Theory Example

So, how does the James-Lange theory work? Given what we already know about the James-Lange theory, let's look at an example.

Jane is walking to her car late at night and suddenly notices someone following her. As a result, her fight or flight system is activated, and Jane runs into her car feeling scared.

Jane's actions and emotions are a prime example of the James-Lange theory. When Jane was presented with the fear-evoking stimuli, physiological changes occurred in her body resulting in the activation of her fight or flight response and her action of running to her car. Based on the James-Lange theory, these physiological and physical responses to the person following her evoked her emotional reaction of fear.

Here's another example, describing the emotional response of happiness.

Brian is taking a stroll down his neighborhood sidewalk when suddenly an adorable puppy emerges from the bushes and runs straight toward Brian. Being an avid dog lover, he notices the puppy and smiles immediately. Based on the James-Lange theory, when Brian saw the puppy, physiological changes occurred in the pleasure center of his brain, causing him to smile. The physiological changes and the action of smiling evoked Brian's emotional response of happiness.

See, the James-Lange theory is not so hard. It is a simple case of what came first, but instead of the chicken or the egg, we are discussing physiological changes and emotions.

James Lange Theory Definition

The James-Lange theory is defined as the peripheralist theory. Peripheralism is the belief that highlights events that occur within our peripheral nervous systems. This term originated amongst scholars and has been used to categorize psychological theories such as James-Lange. The James-Lange theory showcases emotion as a concept dependent on the events that take place within our nervous system. In other words, our bodies are in charge of producing the emotions that we feel from a given stimulus.

Peripheralism: the belief that higher processes like emotions are based on physiological processes occurring in our peripheral body.

Difference Between Cannon-Bard and James Lange Theory

The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion is another popular theory that emerged shortly after the James-Lange theory. Unlike James-Lange, the Cannon-Bard theory suggests that conscious emotion and physiological/physical changes occur simultaneously and independently. According to Cannon-Bard, a conscious emotional response does not depend on physical responses to a given stimulus and vice versa. The two events are independent and result from sensory signals relaying from the thalamus.

Unlike the peripheralist James-Lange theory, scholars classified the Cannon-Bard theory as centralist. The Cannon-Bard theory showcases how stimuli affect the brain and nervous system and outlines the thalamus as the basis for both conscious emotion and physiological responses to a given stimulus. The James-Lange theory of emotion outlines our physiological and physical responses to stimuli as the basis for an emotional response.

Centralism: The belief that the central nervous system is the basis behind higher functions like emotion.

James Lange Theory, brain, StudySmarterCentral nervous system, Pixabay.com

James Lange Theory Criticism

The primary criticism of the James-Lange theory was the Cannon-Bard theory. Scientists Cannon and Bard believed that the James-Lange theory was flawed because the total separation of the body from the central nervous system does not alter emotional behavior. The same physiological changes occur within the body in extremely different emotions like being happy or sad. For example, you can have tears of joy but also tears of sadness.

Also, Cannon and Bard believed that changes within the body occur too slowly to be a source of emotion and that induction of emotional behavior such as smiling or frowning does not produce the feeling of being happy or sad.

The James-Lange vs Cannon-Bard theories have profoundly influenced the psychological research of emotion, and now you have a better understanding of both.

James-Lange Theory - Key takeaways

  • The James-Lange theory of emotion suggests that physical changes occur in response to a given stimulus, influencing our emotions.
  • William James and Carl Lange first devised the James-Lange theory in the 1880s.
  • William James and Carl Lange had two distinct theories behind the emotion.
  • James believed that the nervous system's responses to stimuli were the bases of creating conscious emotional experiences, while Lange thought that emotion occurs due to our hearts.
  • The James-Lange theory is defined as peripheralist theory.

Frequently Asked Questions about James Lange Theory

The James-Lange theory of emotion suggests that physical changes occur in response to a given stimulus, influencing our emotions.

James and Lange cited physicians' observations of increased blood flow to the skull when a patient was angry and interpreted this data to support their theory that emotion is based on physiological changes.

The James-Lange theory was proposed after a series of research articles showcased patients feeling a change in emotion when told to frown or smile. 

The James-Lange theory of emotion suggests that physical changes occur in response to a given stimulus, influencing our emotions.

James and Lange were the first scientists to speak of emotions as dependent on the physiology occurring within us, paving the way for modern science. 

Final James Lange Theory Quiz

Question

What does the James-Lange theory propose?

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Answer

Lexi started to feel the physiological effects of fear such as an increased heart rate and perspiration. These physical changes caused her to experience fear as an emotion. 

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What two scientist came up with James-Lange theory?

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Answer

William James and Carl Lange

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Question

What is the basic definition of James-Lange theory of emotion?

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Answer

Emotions are dependent upon the physiological and physical changes that occur in the body. 

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Question

Select the best example of James Lange theory.

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Answer

Jane noticed she was being followed, her flight or fight response was activated causing Jane to run away leading to her feeling scared

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Question

What term best characterizes the James-Lange theory?

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Answer

Peripheralist

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What does peripheralism mean?

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Answer

Peripheralism is the belief that higher processes like emotion are based on physiological processes occurring in our peripheral body. 

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What theory directly criticizes the James-Lange Theory?

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Answer

The Cannon-Bard Theory 

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What is one difference between the James-Lange theory and the Cannon-Bard theory? 

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Answer

The James-Lange theory suggests that emotion is dependent on our physical reactions while the Cannon-Bard theory suggests that emotion and physical responses to stimuli occur simultaneously. 

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What term best refers to the Cannon-Bard theory?

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Answer

Centralist 

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What does the term centralism refer to?

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Answer

The belief that the central nervous system is the basis behind higher functions like emotion 

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What is a major flaw in the James-Lange theory?

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Answer

the same physiological changes can occur within the body in extremely different emotions. For example a person can have tears of happiness or tears of sadness.

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What phrase best explains the Cannon-Bard theory? 

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Answer

Jane sees someone following her, she feels scared and she runs away. 

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What structure in the brain is the basis behind the Cannon-Bard theory?

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Answer

The thalamus 

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Question

Jane recently found out that she won the lottery, select the best answer that is outlines by the James-Lange theory. 

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Answer

Jane cried so Jane feels happy. 

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One her way to her car, Jane noticed that she had a flat tire, select the best answer that is outlined by the Cannon-Bard theory theory?

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Answer

Jane placed her hands to cover her face so Jane is frustrated. 

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Question

James believed that the ______________'s responses to stimuli were the bases of creating conscious emotional experiences, while Lange thought that emotion occurs due to our __________.

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Answer

nervous system; hearts

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True or False? Both WIlliam James and Carl Lange believed that emotion starts with a conscious experience. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of the following is another term for the James-Lange Theory? 

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Answer

Peripheralist theory

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Question

True or False? According to the James-Lange Theory, our bodies are in charge of producing emotions that we feel.

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Answer

True 

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True or False? The Cannon-Bard Theory suggests that conscious emotion and physiological changes occur dependent on one another. 

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Answer

False. They occur independently. 

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Which of the following is another criticism of the James-Lange Theory?

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Answer

Changes within the body occur too slowly to be a source of emotion. 

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Question

While smiling might not always produce happiness, some research does show that smiling can help improve a person's mood. Which theory of emotion does this finding best support? 

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Answer

James-Lange Theory

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Question

Lexi was riding around town on a Bird when she noticed far too late that the brakes were going out. When she saw a car approaching, she was overcome by fear when she realized she wouldn't be able to stop in time.  How would the James-Lange Theory explain Lexi's experience? 

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Answer

Lexi's physiological responses to the car's approach (external stimuli), knowing her brakes went out, led to her experience of fear. 

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Question

Which theory came first? 

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Answer

James-Lange Theory

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Question

According to the James-Lange Theory, emotions are the result of our ________ of physiological responses. 

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Answer

perception

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Question

True or False? According to the James-Lange Theory, the physical reaction does not need to be present for us to experience any real emotion at all. 


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Answer

False. Physical reaction must be present. 

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Question

Which of the following conditions supports the James-Lange Theory of emotion in its nature? 

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Answer

Panic disorder

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Question

How might the James-Lange Theory of emotion explain symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD)?

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Answer

A person reacts to the physiological reactions of depression such as fatigue, sleep problems, and loss of appetite. Their perception of these physiological changes causes feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

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Question

How would the Cannon-Bard Theory explain symptoms of depression?


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Answer

Physiological symptoms such as loss of appetite or sleeping problems occur independently and simultaneously to a person's feelings of sadness and hopelessness. 

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Question

True or False? In the Cannon-Bard theory, the thalamus is the basis for only the physiological responses, not our conscious emotion.

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Answer

False. The thalamus is the basis for both, 

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