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1200 Home Page    Contact      Learning Objectives      Term Assignment     
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Lecture 4......
Jeremy Jackson
|     May 5, 2014
NW 3431
|     New Westminster
Carl Sagan: "Science is a way of thinking much more than a body of knowledge"

Key concepts - you will be responsible for knowing a number of definitions of key concepts. You may be asked to give an accurate definition and example of any of the key concepts. Key concepts are in italics, bolded and colored red throughout the notes.

Discussion exercises and class activities - the lecture notes contain a number of discussion questions and class activities. You should conduct these exercises as soon as they are introduced in the notes. Exercises are in italics, bolded and green throughout the notes.

Critical points - there are some points that require extra emphasis because they are fundamental to the example or concept being discussed. Critical points are bolded, in italics and colored orange.

Movies - throughout the notes I have made short videos explaining various ideas.

Illustration of an Emotion Experiment

1) Flip a coin. If you get "heads" you are randomly assigned to condition A. If you get "tails" you are randomly assigned to condition B.

2) If you are in condition A, take a pen or pencil and, when I tell you to, put it in your mouth sideways. That is, put in in your mouth like a bit goes in the mouth of a horse. Put the pen in your mouth so that it stretches your cheeks backwards as if the "rider of the horse is pulling back on the bit".

3) If you are in condition B, take a pen or pencil and, when I tell you to, put it in your mouth length ways. That is, put in in your mouth like you are trying to swallow a string of spaghetti. Purse your lips around the pen so that your forehead and eyes take on a "frowning" position.

4) Now, put the pen in your mouth and read the following joke. As soon as you have finished reading the joke, rate it on a scale of 1-7 with 7 being funny and 1 being not funny.


The pope and a lawyer are on an elevator to heaven. When they arrive at the gates, there is a mad rush of angels, saints and other holy people to greet them. When they arrive, they pick the lawyer up on their shoulders and carry him off cheering hysterically. The pope is deeply saddened.

St Peter sees this and goes over to the pope and says: "Don't feel bad, we get popes in here all the time but it's not every day we get a lawyer."

Rating scale

1        2        3         4         5         6         7

Not funny                                                  funny


The first histogram below is a histogram of the results for people with the pen sideways in their mouth. The second graph is the histogram for people with the pen length ways in their mouth. These results come from a class that participated in this study last semester.





We can see that when the pen is sideways in the mouth, the distribution of scores is shifted to the right in comparison to the distribution of scores we got when the pen was length ways in the mouth. That is, the "sideways" distribution is higher-up the x-axis than the "length ways" distribution. Overall, this means that the joke was rated as funnier when the pen was sideways in the mouth.

WHY? Because a sideways pen puts the face in a smiling position and the length ways pen puts the face in a frowning position. When we are smiling, our body is in a physiologically positive position. This influences our interpretation of stimuli we encounter. If we are in a smiling position when we hear a joke, we attribute this to the joke being funny. This is why you should smile if you want to feel good and you want others to judge you to be a nice, positive person.

This means that there is a link between emotions and physiological state. Psychologists have worked to understand this link for almost as long as psychology has been a science. Watch the following presentation on the effect of smiling on both our emotional state and physical health - smiling

Now, let's look at some theories that have been developed to explain emotion and its link to thinking and behavior.

Historically, a number of theories of emotion have been developed to explain how it is that we feel happy, sad, afraid, etc. The following is a historical summary of those theories. We start with the earliest theory and end with a more modern theory that predicts the results we found in our experimental illustration above.

James-Lange Theory of Emotion

James/Lange argued that our ordinary understanding of emotion is wrong. We ordinarily think that emotion works as follows:


They argued that:


The point then is that emotion follows from a physiological response. Just as in the illustration, our feeling of humor was a result of our facial position.  Now this theory was fine except that it left out an organ that we all assume has a great deal to do with emotion - the brain.

In leaving the brain out of the theory, it was implicitly assumed that if no autonomic physiological response existed, a human would feel no emotion - because the autonomic physiological response is the only factor leading to emotion in the theory.

Now this has shown to be a problem in subjects that do not have an autonomic response. In fact, spinal cord injured subjects do feel emotion.

So two other psychologists came along and suggested the following:

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion


In this theory, a person may experience emotion without an autonomic physiological response because all that is required is sub-cortical activity. Again, this theory is fine as far as it goes. However, many recent findings in psychology have shown that cognition is significantly involved in the type of emotion we feel in a given circumstance. But the Canon-Bard theory only includes sub-cortical activity, not the cortical activity that is involved in cognition.

Schacter and Singer/Lazarus developed a new theory that is consistent with much of the research that has shown that our cognitive interpretation of a stimulus determines the kind of emotional response we will have.

Schacter and Singer/Lazarus Theory of Emotion


This type of theory is critical because it shows us that what we feel is dependent on how we interpret the situation we are in. Recall from the first week of class that we attribute cause to behavior - attribution theory.

It turns out that we also attribute cause to our physiological response to a stimulus. That is, we ask ourselves why we are feeling the arousal we are feeling. The answer we give ourselves determines the type of emotion we feel!

When we attribute the cause incorrectly, we do something called misattribution of arousal. This occurs when we attribute the arousal we are feeling to the wrong cause. Consider the following example.

Imagine I am on a first date with a young woman. I am a psychologist and so I decide to take advantage of misattribution of arousal. Instead of a relaxing evening in a dark, unarousing French restaurant, I decide to take my date to a scary movie. Of course, the movie elicits high arousal in my date as scary things happen on the screen. Imagine now that my date experiences arousal and asks herself why she is aroused. If she answers herself that her arousal is due to being next to me in a movie theater, she has mis-attributed her arousal from the movie to me.

Watch the following video for an explanation of the first date example - misatributiuon of arousal.

Now there are literally thousands of studies that have investigated this idea. The following are studies conducted by Schacter and Lazarus.

Schacter (1962)

Imagine we randomly assign subjects to 1 of 3 conditions.

1) Epinephrine: Subject takes the drug epinephrine which increases arousal.

2) Tranquilizer: Subject takes a tranquilizer which decreases arousal

3) Placebo: Subject takes a pill with no active ingredient at all.

We can see now that the IV is arousal and there are 3 levels: 1) Increased arousal 2) Decreased arousal and 3) No change in arousal. Now, as with most properly conducted studies, this study was double blind. This means that neither the subject or the researcher knew what level of they IV they were getting until the experiment was concluded.   This means that the expectation of the subject and researcher about the specific effect of the drug could not influence their behavior in the experiment.

Now, after taking the pill, each subject was shown a comedy movie. Amusement scores were recorded for each subject based on the number of times they smiled or laughed during the movie.   Amusement score is the DV.

The results showed that amusement scores were highest in the epinephrine condition and lowest in the tranquilizer condition.  This is because subjects MIS-attributed their level of arousal to the movie, not the drug. Let's take a look at this effect in the diagram from above for the epinephrine condition.


Now this effect also works in reverse.


Lazarus (1964)

Subjects were asked to watch a video of African tribe members going through a religious rite of manhood in which they were circumcised. Each subject was randomly assigned to one of 4 conditions:

1) Trauma sound-track

2) Denial sound-track

3) Intellectualization sound-track

4) No sound-track.

In this study the movie was linked to one of the four types of audio sound-tracks. The idea was that the soundtrack conveys a cognitive message. In the trauma condition, the soundtrack described what was happening as very painful and distressing. In the denial condition the sound-track described the ritual as not painful or distressing in any way. In the intellectualization sound-track the message was a pure description of the events.

So here the IV is type of message and there are 4 levels. The point is to manipulate the cognition associated with the stimulus.

Now, the DV here was autonomic physiological arousal. In particular, galvanic skin response was measured every second over the course of the movie. The results were as follows:


The results show that the interpretation a subject gave to the movie influenced the extent of physiological arousal. Lower arousal occurred with a benign interpretation and a higher arousal level resulted from a traumatic interpretation.

Notice one other thing from the results that is extremely important to emotion. As time passed arousal went down. This means that subjects habituated to the movie. They got used to the traumatic effect of the movie.


Habituation is a major factor in happiness. In fact, if we look at happiness of lottery winners over time, the graph looks very similar to the graph above.



As we see, there is an initial increase in happiness for lottery winners but over time this increase gradually disappears. But why do we habituate? One explanation comes from last week.

It has been argued that a new set point is created after an increase in happiness and expectations for arousal, pleasure, etc., are compared to a new, higher set point. This is known as the adaptation-level phenomenon. Here we judge our life according to recent experience.  We become happier to the extent that we are achieving just a bit more than expectations we have set based upon recent experience.

This phenomenon also applies to recent surroundings (called relative deprivation). We become happier to the extent that we are achieving slightly more than those around us.

Watch the following video for an excellent lecture on happiness: happiness.


Another explanation of the finding above is that financial rewards are extrinsic for most of us so they have little or no lasting effect on our overall satisfaction. In this explanation, life satisfaction comes form intrinsic factors not extrinsic ones. For most people, intrinsic factors are:

1) High self-worth - when you are satisfied with yourself as a person, you are satisfied with life.

2) Belongingness - when a person has close friendship and love relationships, they are more satisfied with life.

3) Meaningful, interesting life pursuits - when a person is doing things they find meaningful and important, they are more satisfied.

4) Religious faith - when a person believes in a set of values/ideals and lives their life accordingly, they are more satisfied.

5) Physiological health - when a person feels healthy, exercises and sleeps well, they are more satisfied.


Can You Identify Real Emotion?

Take a look at the following study: Smile. See how well you can do in identifying whether the smiles are real or fake. Can you adapt this study for your own research project? Does it give you any ideas?


SA Question Help

I will select 2 of the SA Questions in the "learning objectives" document for the next quiz. Here is some help on how to answer the questions.

The normal form of answer to a question is as follows:

1) Define it. If you are asked 'What is misattribution of arousal?" you are being asked for a definition. Any "what is it" question is a definition question. Usually, when you talk about a concept, a good way to begin is by defining it. So even if you are asked 'How does the fundamental attribution error effect you?" you should begin by defining it.

2) Describe it. A description and a definition are not the same thing. A description tells us things about the concept that has just been defined. So, for example, we can define homeostasis as a biological state of equilibrium and then go on to describe it. For example, we can go on to say that human beings are motivated to achieve a homeostatic state. Whenever the organism is out of homeostasis it will be be driven to restore it.

3) Give examples. It is very important to give examples to your reader. Usually, abstract concepts such as homeostasis are difficult to understand for most people unless examples are used.  So we could use examples of homeostasis such as a state in which experienced risk is equal to optimal risk. Make sure that when you are giving examples you are very clear about why your example is an example of the concept of interest. LINK THE EXAMPLE CLEARLY TO THE CONCEPT. For example, if as an example of RHT I were to say: 'RHT exists when we speed-up after putting on a seatbelt" this would not be sufficient. We need to be clear WHY the person would speed-up after putting on the seatbelt.

4) Issues and problems. This is the point at which we discuss any interesting issues or problems with a concept. NEVER put problems at the beginning of an answer. Show the reader you understand the issue before you address problems and issues. For example, if we were to suggest that RHT predicts that most traffic safety initiatives are ineffective at reducing the accident loss because they do not reduce target risk, this might upset the reader. So we must show the reader that we understand RHT before we start discussing this kind of problem.

Style of writing:

1) Never use colloquial language. Don't say: 'When I was thinking about RHT I realized that it influences me all the time". This is conversational language that should not be used in a formal setting.

2) Be efficient. Never repeat something you have said. Always make sure each sentence says at least something new or says something that has been said before in a different way.

3) Logical flow. Make sure each point follows logically from the previous point.

4) Always define technical concepts. Never introduce a technical concept without defining it. The reader must be clear as to what you are talking about. Don't assume they understand the meaning of technical concepts.







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