Biological Approach (Schacter and Singer)


Psychology 9990

Biological Approach (Schacter and Singer)

Biological Approach (Schacter and Singer)

The Cognitive, Social and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State

This was an experiment performed as a part of research on cognitive and physiological determinants of one’s emotional state. This was conducted at the Social Psychology department at Columbia University under the PHS research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, United States Public Health Services. This experiment however, was conducted at the Laboratory for Research in Social Relations at the University of Minnesota. 

Background of the Research 

A theory proposed by James Lange hypothesized how that the bodily changes that occur as a response to some stimulating event, and our experience of these changes is what we call emotion. 

A critique was however proposed by Walter Canon – this included;

The changes that occur in the internal organs are in a set of emotional responses, so how does one differentiate between fear from anger?

Experience of emotion is not brought upon by artificial changes in the state of internal organs. For example, by the use of adrenaline injections. 

The Psychology Being Investigated:

The Two-Factor Theory Of Emotion: 

This theory forms the fundamentals of this study, where it proposes: 

a. When someone experiences an emotion, physiological arousal tends to occur and the person uses the current and existing environment to search for emotional cues and hints to label and systematically categorize the occurring physiological arousal.

b. This can cause various misinterpretations of the emotional responses based on the physiological arousal. 

c. Furthermore, when the brain cannot rationalize or configure the reason why it feels a certain emotion, it relies on external stimulation for cues on how to label the emotional information. 


The aim was to investigate whether when a person is in a state of physiological arousal that has no immediate explanation and what role cognitive factors play in the experience of that motion (eg. How we label it). Also, the researchers aimed to see whether when we do have an appropriate explanation for feeling a certain emotion, we always label it as the most appropriate emotion. 

For Example:

Stimulus: A shadowy figure of a man in a parking lot at night, that walks towards you. 

Simultaneous experience of: 

A. Emotional and Physiological Arousal:  Trembling hands and an increased rapid heartbeat, perspiration.  

B. Cognitive Label: Associating the physiological reactivity to a cognitive label such as the emotion of “fear”. 


1. If an individual experiences an arousal state for which they have no adequate or immediate explanation, they will deem and label this state and narrate/describe the way they felt in terms of cognitions/understanding present to them at that moment in time.  

2. If an individual experiences an arousal state for which they have an adequate/appropriate explanation, for eg; ‘I feel this because I have just intercepted an injection of adrenalin then they will be unlikely to label the way they feel in terms of the alternative cognitions/understanding present. 

3. If an individual is put in a situation, which formerly could have emotionally stimulated them, they will react in an emotional way or undergo emotions only if they are in a state of “physiological arousal”. 

Prerequisites For The Research:

The experimental test of the above-mentioned propositions requires the following: 

1. The experimental manipulation of a state of physiological arousal 

2. The manipulation of the extent to which the subject has an appropriate or proper explanation of his/her bodily state – activating cognition. 

3. The creation of situations from which explanatory cognitions may be derived – situational context.

Sampling Of Participants:

This consisted of 184 males. (Androcentric, not generalizable)

They were students at college, attending introductory psychology classes at Minnesota University. 

Health records of subjects were checked with the “Student Health Service” to make certain that the adrenalin would not adversely affect the participants or cause any harm. (Ethical consideration). 

In order to satisfy the mentioned experimental requirements, the participants were told that they were a part of a study on the effects of vitamin supplements, on vision. 


As soon as the subject arrived, he was escorted to an exclusive room and told by the experimenter: “In this experiment we would like to make various tests of your vision. We are particularly interested in how certain vitamin compounds and vitamin supplements effect visual skills. Specifically, to find out how the vitamin compound called ‘Suproxin’ affects the vision. What we would like to do, then, if we can get your permission is to give you a miniscule injection of Suproxin. The injection itself is mild and placid (harmless); however, since some people do not appreciate being injected, we don’t want to force you or manipulate you into anything. Would you mind receiving a Suproxin injection?”.

If the subject agrees to the injection (184/185 in this case) the experimenter continued with instructions and left the room.

In a few minutes a physician entered the room, briefly repeated the experimenter's instructions, took the subject’s vitals (pulse) and then proceeded to inject the patient with the Suproxin dose. 

It is important to mention, how depending upon the subject’s condition they received one of two forms of Suproxin – Epinephrine or Placebo.     

Epinephrine is a hormone that reduces physiological arousal such as increased pressure of blood (BP), heart rate, blood glucose levels, breathing (respiration rate) and flow of blood to the brain and the muscles. This is accompanied by a decrease in the flow of blood to the skin. 

Which is why instances such as tremors (vibrations in the body that stimulate hyper-movement), faster breathing and flushing occur and palpitation occur. 

“Placebo” is a mock solution of water and another unreactive substance such as water. In this case it was saline solution. 

With the dosage given to the subjects', effects were expected with 3-5 minutes of injection and last anywhere between 10 minutes to one hour (60 mins). 

Manipulating Explanations: 


1. Epinephrine Informed (Epi Inf)
Right away after the subject has agreed to the dosage of the injection and prior to when the physician enters the room, the experimenter states: 
“I should also inform you that some of our subjects have witnessed and gone through side effects from the Suproxin. These side effects are temporary, that is, they will prolong for about 15-20 minutes. What will most likely happen is that your hands will start to shake/tremble, the heart will start to beat heavily and the face may turn flushed and warm. Repeating, these side effects will be lasting for 15-20 mins.”

While the physician was giving the injection, she told the subject that the injection was feeble and benign (harmless) and repeated the detailed description of the symptoms that the participant could expect as a reaction of the dose. In this condition, then, subjects had a completely adequate/appropriate interpretation of their bodily state, effectively explaining it. They knew why and what they would be feeling - testing hypothesis # 2. 

2. Epinephrine Ignorant (Epi Ign)
In this condition, when the subject agreed to the dosage, the experimenter uttered nothing related to side effects and quietly, simply left the room. 

When the physician was administering the injection, she told the subject that the injection was feeble and benign (harmless) and would contain little to no side effects. In this condition, then the participant had no experimentally issued interpretation for his bodily state and thus no explanation. Therefore, cognitive interpretation is open to variation, looking for available cognition or stimulus present – testing hypothesis # 1. 

3. Epinephrine Misinformed (Epi Mis)
Immediately after the subject had agreed to the injection and before the physician entered the room, the experimenter said:
“I should also bring to your knowledge that some of our subjects have sustained side effects from the Suproxin. These side effects are short-term, lasting for usually 15-20 minutes. What most likely will happen is that the body will experience sensations such as numbness in the feet, irritation and itching over their body and probable, slight headache. But again, these do not last very long.”

This group was led to use the environmental quest around them to assess their state of physiological being. 

4. Placebo Condition:
In this condition, subjects were dosed with saline solution. These subjects in question were given the identical treatment that the Epi Ig group got I.e the experimenter said nothing relevant to side effects and simply left the room.

While the physician was giving the injection dose, she told the subject that the injection was harmless and of very little effect (mild), then the subject had no experimentally plausible explanation for his bodily state.  

This was used as the control group, as they were not experiencing any physiological stimulation and had no emotion to label. 

Inducing Cognition via Production Of Emotions:

In order to assess the first hypothesis, the experimenter decided to  direct and manipulate states of emotion which could be ‘anger’ or ‘euphoria’. 

The experimenters concentrated on socially determining factors of emotional states which is essentially how people evaluate the way they felt by comparing themselves with others around them. 

In one condition, the subject was put in company with a stooge who had been trained to act euphorically, entertaining the subject, making the subject laugh and smile. In the second set of conditions, the subject was put with a stooge trained to act angrily. With behaviour designed to annoy and agitate the participants. 

The protests conducted had indicated that for most subjects, epinephrine caused symptoms that had start to set in 3-5 minutes after the injection had been administered. An intentional attempt was made to bring the stooge with in 1 minute after the subject’s injection. 

Euphoria SituationAnger Situation

- Right after the subject had been administered with the injection, the physician left the room and the experimenter came back with a stooge/actor who he introduced as merely another subject. 

They were told: 

How both of them had been given the Suproxin shot and how they both would be taking the same tests of vision. The experimenter then asked them to wait 20 minutes. The reason being that the administered drug takes 20 minutes at a minimum to take its course into the blood via the bloodstream. At the conclusion of 20 mins the researchers will be certain that the epinephrine has been circulated and then the tests will begin. 

The room in which the participants had been put was deliberately in a state of mild disorder and mess, at which the experimenter added how he was apologetic about the state of the room. 

− He continued by informing the participants of the material available to them which were; scratch papers, rubber bands, hula hoops, folders and pencils. 

He then said to “help themselves” and how he will return in 20 minutes’ time. 

As the experimenter left, the stooge/actor gained more ground for conversation, introducing himself and making icebreaker conversation, finally easing into his routine. 

The “routine” was completely standardized which comprised of interacting with and entertaining the subject. With the stooge asking the subject to come and join with him in the “fun” activities which consisted in playing with the rough papers, pencils and rubber bands (apparatus). 

The only variation was how the stooge had to fluctuate pace of the act according to the participants’ mood, reaction, interactivity and etc. 

Furthermore, the other type of variation was at the subject’s part where if he wanted to initiate any act of his own in the routine. This would usually be intercepted by the stooge and they would collaborate. 

The subject never knew that this was an act all along, keep the exposure to demand characteristics tightly controlled. 

- Right after the subject had been administered with the injection, the experimenter brought the stooge/actor into the room, introduced the two and explained the need for a 20-minute interval for the “Suproxin to circulate into the bloodstream”.

They then were handed out questionnaires by the experimenters and were told to fill them, in 20 minutes when they will return and the vision tests will commence. 

Before even starting the questionnaire and before even looking at it (stooge’s prompt) the stooge aggravated the subject by saying how he just wanted to come here for an experiment and how its unethical of them to give us shots/injections. He added how they could have been informed about the injections when they had been selected for the study as one doesn’t refuse once you’re already in. 

This questionnaire was 5 pages long and tedious to fill. 

It was also intrusive of one’s privacy. Asking deeply personal and offensive questions.

For example, Question7 was about foods eaten in a normal day whereas Question34 asked about family matters.)

The stooge sat directly opposite to the subject so that he could keep up with the pace, working on the questions that the subject was working on. (standardization)

The stooge listed a sequence of standardized comments about the questions. His comments progressively got angrier. 

For example:

Before starting, he goes through and flips through the questionnaire saying “Boy, this is a long one.”

Question 17 asked “What is your father’s annual income? To which the stooge responds: “This is really none of their business, I'm irritated and I’m leaving that blank.”

Questions were present that intruded on a very personal level such as: “How many times each week do you have sexual intercourse?” On which the stooge bites out: “To hell with it! I'm not telling them this.”

The concluding question was “With how many men (other than your father) has your mother had extramarital relationships?” On a scale from 1-10. 

Subjects in the Epi Ign, Epi Inf and Placebo conditions were run through this “anger” inducing sequences. The stooge did not know to which condition the subject had been assigned in reality. 
In summary, 7 conditions were employed to test out 2 emotional states. The Epi Mis condition was not played out in the anger sequence as this was originally planned as a (control condition) and thus this being tested in euphoria alone would be enough to evaluate the effect of Epi Inf instructions. 


Epi Inf

Epi Ign

Epi Mis


Epi Inf

Epi Ign




Two Types Of Measurements Of Emotional State Were Obtained:

1. Standardized Observation which was done through a one-way mirror (covert observation). This was used to assess the extent of the subject’s euphoria and anger. 

2. Self-reports via questionnaire and a mood scale on which the subject indicated mood levels at the moment. The “indices” of mood would be available to the experimenter and his associates. 


Euphoria SituationAnger Situation

-  For each of the first 14 units of the stooge’s standardized routine an observer kept a running record of what the subject did and said (operationalization).

−  The behaviour was coded into 4 categories of observation:

1.  Joins in activity 

2.  Initiates new activity

3.  Ignores or watches stooge. 

−  It was possible that one behaviour could be put into 2 or more of the above-mentioned categories. 

−  Inter-rater reliability was high as the observed agreed on the coding 88% of the units. 

-  For each of the units of the stooge’s behaviour, an observed documented and coded them into a categorical scheme: 

1. Agrees - +2

2. Disagrees - -2

3. Neutral – 0

4. Starts agreement or disagreement - +2 0r –2

5. Watches – 0 

6. Ignores - -1

In order to get a behavioural index of anger, observational protocol was scored according to the values mentioned above. 

Inter-rater reliability was high as the observers unanimously agreed on 71% of the units observed. 

Only differed by 1% or less for 88% of the units checked. 

Self-Report Of Physical Condition And Mood: 

When the subject’s session with the stooge was completed, the experimenter returned to the room and gave the participants another questionnaire.              

In keeping with the line, the questionnaire that the experimenter passed out contained filler/mock questions as well; about hunger, fatigue, etc. 

But the questions were actually present to measure the following:  

1. To measure mood or emotional state.

2. To measure the physiological influence/effects of epinephrine 

3. To measure possible effects of the instructions in the Epi Mis Condition

To measure mood or emotional state, various questions were asked, here are two essential ones:

1. How irritated, angry or annoyed would you say you feel at present?

i. I don’t feel angry at all (0)

ii. I feel a little irritated and angry (1)

iii. I feel quite irritated and angry (2)

iv. I feel very irritated and angry (3)

v. I feel extremely irritated and angry (4)

2. How good or happy would you say you feel?

i. I don’t feel happy at all (0)

ii. I feel a little good and happy (1)

iii. I feel quite good and happy (2)

iv. I feel very good and happy (3)

v. I feel extremely good and happy (4)

To measure the physiological effects of epinephrine and to examine if the dose had the desired effect on the bodily state, the following questions were asked:

1. Have you experienced any palpitation?

i. Not at all (0)

ii. A slight amount (1)

iii. A moderate amount (2)

iv. An intense amount (3)

2. Did you feel any tremor?

i. Not at all (0)

ii. A slight amount (1)

iii. A moderate amount (2)

iv. An intense amount (3)

To measure possible effects of the instructions given in the Epi Mis condition, these questions were asked: 

1. Did you feel numbness in the feet?

2. Did you feel an itching sensation?

3. Did you experience any feeling of a headache?

This was measured on a 4-point scale (Not at all to an intense amount). (Quantitative Data)

In addition to these the subjects were asked to answer: 

Two-open ended questions on other physical or emotional sensations that they may have experienced during the experimental session. 

A conclusive measure of bodily state was the pulse-rate, taken by the physician or the experimenter twice – immediately after the injection had been administered and immediately after the session with the stooge. 

Debriefing and Confidentiality: 

After the experiment was over, the deception was explained in detail and with regards to its importance.  (Quantitative Data)

The subjects were sworn to secrecy. 

They also answered a questionnaire regarding their experience, if any, with adrenalin and their knowledge or suspicion of their experimental setup. 

11 subjects had been so suspicious of some integral parts of the study that their results had to be discarded as a consequence. 


The data obtained from the above-mentioned table portrays that on all items subjects who were in the epinephrine condition showed considerably more evidence of sympathetic activation that do subjects who were placed in the placebo condition.

It is evident on the scale that epinephrine subjects experience more palpitation and tremor than do placebo subjects.

In all of the comprehensive cross-analysis on these symptoms, the mean/average scores of subjects in any of the epinephrine conditions were higher than the corresponding scores in the placebo conditions.

Subjects in epinephrine conditions were, indeed, in state of physiological arousal, while most subjects in placebo conditions were in a relative state of physiological dormancy as closer examinations proved. 

In the condition of; euphoria the misinformed group were feeling the happiest out of all groups, the following happiest group (2nd) was the ignored group, the informed group felt the least happy/good because they were able to explain why they had a reason. This demonstrates how participants were more likely to fall for the stooge’s act because they had no reasoning of why they felt the way they did. 

In the anger group, the Epi ignorant group was the most angry, with the following group being the placebo group, second angriest. The informed group was the slightest angry. Again, demonstrating why and how the participants were more likely to fall for the stooge’s antics. 

The epinephrine injection did not work with equal efficacy on all subjects though – as they were no reports of physiological arousal from some subjects at all. 


Schacter and Singer debate that their results do indeed support the two-factor theory of emotion, which states that the physiological in different, varying emotions is grossly the same and we label/tag arousals according to the cognitions we have present at that moment in time. 

They also argued that all of their hypothesis were supported and concluded that if a person experiences an arousal state which they cannot explain, they will label or designate this state and describe their feelings in terms of the cognitions present and available to them.


Application and Usefulness:

This study enables us to understand how people take different environmental hints to help them understand and interpret their physiological state. 

This could be useful in treating people who suffer from anxiety disorders as it will enable them to have more control and identify triggers such as environmental cues. 


The procedure was highly controlled and structured (standardized). 

Thye were able to assign participants randomly to different conditions and were even able to deceive the participants regarding the aim and nature of the experiments.

High in reliability.

It however lacked ecological validity, given how every condition was artificially manipulated.  

The sample was not generalizable in terms of age or gender. Nonn-representative sample.

It was androcentric (184 males).

Some variables might not have been considered such as the predominant 

© 2019-2022 O’Level Academy. All Rights Reserved