What Is Emotion Psychology And How Is It Used?

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated April 18, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Lauren Guilbeault, LMHC

Emotion Psychology is the study of human emotions. Emotions are complex feelings that result in physical and psychological changes. These changes influence our thought and behaviors. Emotions impact our personalities, temperament, and moods. Today, psychologists have developed six theories of emotion that explain how emotions are used.

Three Categories Of Emotion

The six theories of emotion are categorized into three groups, including physiological, cognitive, and neurological.

The physiological theory category states that bodily responses create emotion.

Cognitive theory category suggests that thoughts and mental activity create emotion.

Neurological theory category proposes emotions are created through neuron responses in the brain.

Most scientists believe that these three theories work together to create and affect emotions.

Six Theories Of Emotion

There are currently six theories of emotion psychology that explain where emotions come from and how they affect us.

Evolutionary Theory of Emotion– Charles Darwin is most noted for his work with evolution and natural selection. However, Darwin also developed a theory of emotion that prosed that emotions evolve because they are adaptive traits that allow us to reproduce. When we feel love and affection, these emotions lead to arousal and ultimately mate selection and reproduction. Emotions such as fear and anxiety can keep us safe from danger and predators, activating our fight or flight responses. Emotions enable humans to respond quickly to environmental factors, improving the chances of survival and successful reproduction.

James-Lange Theory of Emotion- The James-Lange theory of emotion was proposed by psychologist William James and physiologist Carl Lange. This theory is one of the most popularly accepted theories of physiological emotion theory. The James-Lange theory suggests that external stimulus leads to a physiological response depending on how you interpret what you are seeing or experiencing. If you walk through the forest and come across a mountain lion, your instinct is to start trembling and becoming anxious; this physiological response causes fear and initiates the flight or fright response. Your body must first react according to James-Lange theory before your brain can create the emotion.

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion- The Cannon-Bard theory is another physiological theory that proposes several contradictions to the James-Lange theory. First, Cannon-Bard’s theory suggests that people can experience a physiological response to a stimulus without feeling an emotion. For example, during fearful events, your heart may be racing. When you exercise, your heart also races, but you are not feeling the emotion of fear. If the heart racing caused the emotion, you would feel the emotion every time you experienced the physiological response. Cannon also notes that sometimes people feel fear before they have an external stimulus, such as walking alone at night. Bard later expanded on this theory to propose that we can feel emotions and physiological responses simultaneously. One does not always have to come before the other.

Schachter-Singer Theory- The Schachter-Singer theory is also called the two-fact theory of emotion. This theory is categorized under the cognitive theories of emotion and suggests that first, physiological arousal must occur. Then, one must identify the reason for the experience and label the emotion. This theory combines aspects of both the Cannon-Bard theory and James-Lange theory. Schachter-Singer’s theory suggests that the physiological response infers emotions and that the brain must use cognitive abilities to interpret those responses. This theory also concluded that the interpretation of physiological response could vary from person to person. Thus, no two people may react the same way to an identical stimulus.

Cognitive Appraisal Theory- Thinking must occur before emotion in this appraisal theory made popular by Richard Lazarus. According to Lazarus, there is a very distinct process that must occur to experience emotion. First, the stimulus must be presented. This stimulus leads to thought, which then stimulates a physiological response, and finally, emotion is experienced. Going back to the dangerous animal idea, in this theory, one must first think they are in danger before a physiological response or emotion occurs.

Facial-Feedback Theory of Emotion- Facial Feedback Theory suggests that the way we experience emotions is linked to our facial expressions. This theory uses Darwin and James’s ideas as they noted that physiological response sometimes impacts emotion. According to the Facial Feedback Theory, if you smile even when you are not happy, you will begin to feel happier than you would if you were frowning.

How To Use Emotional Psychology To Handle Your Emotions

Understanding the six different emotion theories can help you better understand where your emotions come from and why you react a certain way to a stimulus. However, many of us struggle to keep our emotions under control, remain calm when we are angry, cry when we are sad, etc. As a society, we have intense pressure, especially males, to keep our emotions under wraps; Simultaneously, it is unhealthy to bottle your emotions; it can be even worse not to control your own emotions or feelings.

These are a few ways that you can use what you have learned about emotional psychology to control your emotions:

  1. Recognize your feeling- To control your feelings, you must be able to recognize emotions. We are programmed by society to keep our emotions stuffed down and mutter an “I’m doing just fine” when asked how we are doing by strangers. These behaviors can hinder your ability to be in control of your emotions.
  2. Reflect- Looking back on a situation and analyzing why you reacted the way you did or triggered an emotional response will help you better control your emotions in a similar situation in the future. Understanding that sometimes the things that set us off may not be the root of the problem determine your core issues.
  3. Think about consequences- Reacting at the moment is natural. Still, you must practice being able to look ahead and think about how your reactions and emotions are affecting or could affect other people. Often, if we recognize that our emotions and reactions will be harmful to ourselves or others, we can take a step back and reevaluate the situation.
  4. Listen to Learn- When you find yourself in a situation with another person where your emotions may be getting the best of you, such as an argument, make sure that you listen to everything they say. We often get so wrapped up in our situation and how we want to respond that it can increase our anxiety at the detriments of our emotional response. Don’t just listen to formulate a response; listen to learn about and connect with the other person.
  1. Press the Pause Button- When you realize you are not keeping a good handle on your emotions, don’t be afraid to step back and pause the conversation. Take a break from the situation and go somewhere that you can recollect your thoughts and emotions. Try using mindfulness techniques such as breathing and meditation to calm down and reassess.
  2. Unplug- There has been much research and controversy over the way electronics interfere with our emotions. Taking time away from social media, cell phones, and the internet, instead of spending time with people who care about you or going for a hike can help regulate your emotions and clear your mind.
  3. Self-Care- Learning to love yourself and take care of yourself should be number 1 on this list. Before you can interpret others’ emotions and build lasting and successful relationships, you must first be in a good mental state yourself. Taking time out for yourself and enjoying the little things that make you happy can elevate your mood, make you happier, ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and help you feel calmer and more relaxed in general.

Emotion psychology impacts every part of our lives. Our emotions impact our relationships, and society is built upon relationships. This is why it is important to have a great emotional intelligence understanding. When you can teach yourself how to regulate your own emotions and recognize emotions and interpret those emotions correctly, you have a better chance at a successful and productive relationship.

Emotion psychology can benefit our workplace relationships, at home, at school, and in other places. Our emotions greatly impact our mental health status, and feelings should be taken seriously. If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional difficulties, contact MyTherapist to start an online therapy process and connect to someone who can help and listen.

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