The Two-Stage Model of Emotion and the Interpretive Structure of the Mind

Journal of Mind and Behavior 29 (4):291-320 (2008)
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Abstract

Empirical evidence shows that non-conscious appraisal processes generate bodily responses to the environment. This finding is consistent with William James’s account of emotion, and it suggests that a general theory of emotion should follow James: a general theory should begin with the observation that physiological and behavioral responses precede our emotional experience. But I advance three arguments (empirical and conceptual arguments) showing that James’s further account of emotion as the experience of bodily responses is inadequate. I offer an alternative model, according to which responses (physical states) are perceived and interpreted by a separate cognitive process, one that assigns meaning to those responses. The non-conscious appraisal process and the interpretive process are distinct, hence a two-stage model of emotion. This model is related to Schachter and Singer’s two-factor theory. Their often-discussed experiment showed that interpretation can play a role in producing emotions. But they do not show that interpretation is necessary for producing emotions in general, outside of the experimental conditions that generated unexplained arousal in subjects. My two-stage model supports this stronger claim by situating the interpretive process in a comprehensive model of emotion.

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Marc A. Cohen
Seattle University

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