I'm currently in AP Psychology and studying for the exam using the College Board's course description, which contains sample psychology multiple choice questions. Here is one question, taken from the document:

Lee is about to skydive for the first time. He interprets his racing heart to be the result of his eager anticipation and excitement. This best represents which theory of emotion?

(a) Cannon-Bard

(b) James-Lange

(c) Drive reduction

(d) Schachter’s two factor

(e) Arousal

Immediately, I ruled out A, B, C, and E, leaving "D" as the choice. But per the definition of the Schachter two factor theory of emotion (alternatively known as the Schachter-Singer model), an emotion is felt only after there has been a physiological response and a cognitive appraisal of the situation. Here is one source that explains this, but our AP Psychology textbook also explains it in that way. I don't see how that matches the given scenario. Why is this correct?


1 Answer 1


I think it's because he interprets his emotion as anticipation and excitement because of the context - because he's about to go skydiving which is fun and exciting. If he was at home watching a boring TV show and had the same physiological experience, he might think he was having a symptom of some kind of heart disease. If he'd just tried a new drug and had the experience, he'd think it a side effect of the drug. If he'd just met a new person and had the racing heart, he might think he was in love. The physiological response (racing heart) is necessary, but it needs to be defined cognitively according to the context (skydiving), that's the two-factor theory.

  • $\begingroup$ But the question presents the physiological response (heart racing) as a consequence of emotion (anticipation and excitement), which goes in a direction reverse to what the two-factor theory states: "He interprets his racing heart to be the result of his eager anticipation and excitement." $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AleksandrH, You experience an event --> an emotion is triggered, unconsciously --> the emotion triggers the racing heart --> you become aware of the heart beat --> you try to explain the racing heart --> you infer based on context and your beliefs, that you are feeling excitment $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ According to Schachter-Singer theory, emotions are not physiologically distinct, but all are just states of arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. This state of arousal could lead to joy, anger, fear or non-emotional states depending on the way it is consciously interpreted. Emotion is a conscious phenomenon, according to this theory. In your example, it doesn't say that the racing heart is a consequence of emotion, only that it is experienced (part of arousal). It becomes an emotion (excitement) only when it is cognitively appraised. $\endgroup$
    – Ruth
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you DesignerAnalyst and Ruth, both your posts helped to clarify things a LOT for me. So if I understand correctly now, there is first a physical response, and depending on your cognitive appraisal or evaluation of that response you will experience a different emotion, correct? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @AleksandrH yes, exactly. $\endgroup$
    – Ruth
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 16:39

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