Two Factor Theory of Emotion

Two Factor Theory of Emotion - Toolshero

Two factor Theory of Emotion by Schachter and Singer: this article explains the two factor theory of emotion, developed by Stanley Schachter and Jerome E. Singer. The theory is also known as Schachter’s two-factor theory. The article starts with the definition of this theory, followed by a list of releated theories and criticisms on this theory. Enjoy reading!

What is the two-factor theory of emotion?

The two-factor theory of emotion is a theory that states that emotion is primarily based on two factors: physiological arousal and a subsequent cognitive process.

In this process, a person uses his or her immediate environment to look for emotional cues to label the arousal, or sexual attraction.

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According to the Schachter-Singer theory of emotion, a person should feel physiological arousal first and then label it.

Physiological arousal includes physical processes of the body, such as perspiration, blushing, trembling, an increased heart rate or looking pale.

When the brain isn’t sure why it’s feeling an emotion, it relies on external stimulation to look for a clue as to how to label the emotion. In this case, emotions are misinterpreted. More on this later.

Two Factor Theory of Emotion framework - Toolshero

Figure 1 – Two Factor Theory of Emotion

The theory was developed by Stanley Schachter and Jerome E. Singer in the 1960s.

Other theories about emotion include:

  • James-Lange Theory of Emotion
  • Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion
  • Cognitive Appraisal Theory
  • Facial Feedback Theory of Emotion

The first two from the list above have long been regarded as the most important theories of emotion.

Example of the Two factor Theory of Emotion

A short example to clarify the different elements of the theory. A young man walks alone through the city on Monday evening.

Out of nowhere, an older man approaches him from an alley. The young man’s heart rate shoots up immediately and he notices that he is beginning to tremble.

These physiological actions are due to the emotion of fear, and the man thinks: I am afraid. The man approaching him is the stimulating event in this story, and the increased heart rate and tremors are part of the physiological arousal.

The young man relates these physical processes to the emotion of fear. This is what is meant by cognitive labeling. In this way, the emotion of fear is experienced intensely.

Further sample analysis

In the example above, the young man’s environment plays an important role in the interpretation of the physiological processes that he observes in himself.

The context, alone in a city center at night, and the unknown man who approaches him contribute to him labeling his experience as fear.

Had this happened on a sunny Saturday afternoon, both the physiological processes and the emotions would be labeled differently.

Validation of the Two-factor Theory of Emotion study

Schachter and Singer conducted a well-known experiment in 1962 to test their emotion theory. The research focus was on whether the same type of physiological arousal might have a different effect based on a person’s context and circumstances.

184 male college students were told they would be given a drug to improve their eyesight.

This drug was actually adrenaline, a hormone that is produced during a stress response. The effects of administering adrenaline are an increased heart rate, tremors, rapid breathing and a flushed face.

Some of the 184 were informed about the possible side effects of the drug, and some were not. Part of the group also received a placebo. They were all sent to a separate room with a fellow student. This fellow student was instructed to radiate either anger or euphoria.

Singer and Schachter found that the people who were not aware they were receiving adrenaline became happier or angrier than the people who were told about the possible side effects. The men who had a euphoric confederate, experienced the physiological responses as happiness. The men with an angry roommate experienced the situation as anger and fear.

The experiment showed that the participants who had an experience that they could not explain labeled their emotion based on the behavior of the people in their immediate environment.

Criticism of the Two-factor Theory of Emotion

The theory of Schachter and Singer is not free from criticism. Fellow researchers have partially or not supported the pair’s results, and others came to conflicting results.

For example, another study found that unexplained physical arousal is more likely to trigger negative emotions such as fear, regardless of the state in which it occurs.

Another criticism of the Two-factor Theory of Emotion theory is that emotions are sometimes experienced without our thinking about it. Researchers therefore support James-Lange’s suggestion that there are actually physiological differences between emotions.

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation of the Two factor Theory of Emotion? Do you ever consciously think about your emotions? Do you recognize elements from this theory? What other theories about emotions do you know? Do you have any tips or comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Cornelius, R. R. (1991). Gregorio Marafion’s Two-Factor Theory of Emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17(1), 65-69.
  2. Cotton, J. L. (1981). A review of research on Schachter’s theory of emotion and the misattribution of arousal. European Journal of Social Psychology, 11(4), 365-397.
  3. Schachter, S., & Singer, J. (1962). Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological review, 69(5), 379.
  4. Plutchik, R., & Ax, A. F. (1967). A critique of determinants of emotional state by Schachter and Singer (1962). Psychophysiology, 4(1), 79-82.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2022). Two Factor Theory of Emotion (Schachter and Singer). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 05/04/2022 | Last update: 05/10/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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