Varieties of Emotions
Emotions vary in intensity, and your interpretation of day-to-day situations through cognitive appraisal dictates the quality and type of emotion you experience. In S. Schachter and J. Singer's study published in Psychological Review (1962), they detail an experiment conducted to determine if cognitive appraisal indeed would create a subjective response regardless of autonomic behavior.
What is cognitive appraisal?
It's an individual's personal estimation of events or situations in relation to her or his goals and beliefs. It also affects the significance and level of intensity at which the emotion is experienced as well as the seriousness of the threat.
Subjects were injected with epinephrine and given specific information regarding the effect the drug would have on them. Some of them were told the drug would make them euphoric while others were told it would make them feel angry. In actuality, all subjects experienced the same physical reactions to the drug, including increased heart rate, trembling, and rapid breathing. Each subject was then directed to a waiting room where he or she encountered a person posing as another subject who had also been injected with the drug. If the real subject had been told he or she would experience euphoria, then the confederate would act out that emotion by amusing him self with paper airplanes, wastebasket basketball, etc. In the rooms where subjects were told they would feel angry, the accomplice would display that behavior by complaining or storming out of the room.
In addition to stimulating autonomic nerve action, epinephrine is used to reverse the advanced stages of anaphylaxis, a potentially lifethreatening allergic reaction that severely attacks the body by affecting the skin, the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tracts, and the cardiovascular system.
Since the autonomic responses of both anger and euphoria are similar (increased heart rate, fidgety behavior, and breathing patterns), the injection worked in conjunction with the preconditioned mindset (anger or euphoria) to elicit a total emotional experience. Those who encountered the euphoric confederate generally recorded their feelings as happy, while the subjects who came in contact with the angry confederate recorded negative feelings.
Assessing the Situation
Rather than subscribing to the theory that emotion is rooted solely in physical reactions, the previously outlined experiment suggests that both autonomic arousal and the interpretation of the situation that causes the arousal are key factors in producing an emotional response. In fact, your perception of life experiences becomes even more important in determining the emotion and, in turn, the physiological repercussions of that emotion.
A single occurrence, then, can provoke a full range of emotions depending on the person experiencing the event. For example, if a young woman marries a very attractive young man with a severe drinking problem, her feelings may be primarily joyous. At the same time, her rival might experience sadness, her parents’ anxiety, and his parents’ relief. Each person's assessment of the same experience triggered a completely different emotion, although all parties involved most likely had a shared anatomic response: tears.