Cognitive, Social and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State

Stanley Schachter and Jerome E. Singer (1962)

Purpose of the experiment.

Is there a direct relationship between how we feel inside and the interpretation of that feeling? Would a certain amount of adrenaline (Epinephrine) make us happy or sad? William James (1890) thought so. Internal changes (e.g. butterflies in stomach) occur because of an arousing event (e.g. an exam), and we interpret these internal feelings as an emotion. This is known as the James-Lange theory. When we trip, our heart pounds, we then feel annoyed or upset.

Walter Cannon (1929) disagreed, arguing:

  1. The same changes occur in the internal organs in a range of emotional responses, so how can one emotion be attached to the feeling?
  2. Artificial changes brought about by adrenaline do not necessarily produce an emotional feeling.

Maraņon (1924) found that adrenaline alone did not produce an emotion; However, if the subject was questioned first about a painful event, the adrenaline then produced emotional upset. The subject before the injection would not be upset by the thought of the emotional event.

Schachter and Singer propose a two-factor theory, which suggests that in order to experience an emotion one needs both physiological arousal and a cognition. The cognition would explain the physiological arousal in terms of the current events or thoughts.

  1. If we are aroused inside, perhaps by adrenaline, and we do not know the cause of our arousal, then we would seek a reason. We would label our feelings as happy, if people are in a party spirit around us, or as anger, if people are trying to annoy us.
  2. If somebody knows they have been injected with adrenaline, then they do not need to label their feeling, believing that they are not particularly happy nor sad.
  3. If somebody is in a happy situation, but are not physiologically aroused, then they should not feel any emotion; Likewise in a sad situation.

The Experiment in a nut shell.

Independent Variables

  1. Injected Adrenaline or Saline solution
  2. The subjects were given a description of side-effects, misinformed about the side-effects, or told nothing.
  3. The subjects were placed in a 'Euphoric' (Happy) or 'Angry' situation.

Dependent Variables

  1. Observed signs of happiness
  2. Observed signs of anger
  3. Self-report of happiness or anger

Adrenaline injection produces an increase in systolic blood pressure, an increase in heart rate, a decrease in cutaneous blood flow, muscle and cerebral blood flow increases, blood sugar and lactic acid concentrations in the blood increase, and respiration rate increases. Saline injection produces no physiological effect. This injection controls for the effect of being injected. Subjects could be aroused by simply having an injection.

All subjects told they are being used to test the effectiveness of a [fictitious] vitamin supplement called 'Suproxin'. Suproxin is supposed to improve the eyesight. A test is to be given as soon as the Suproxin has taken effect in approximately 20 minutes time. All of this is purely a cover story to disguise the real purpose of the experiment (reduce demand characteristics).

A doctor checks the subjects pulse before administering the injection.

Informed Condition- subjects are told to expect the above listed effects of adrenaline. They are not told it is adrenaline.

Misinformed condition - This condition is to control for auto-suggestion. This might cause the subjects to feel they are experiencing the effects of adrenaline simply because they were told to expect the effects (e.g. if you are told you look ill, you might actually believe that you are, and then feel as if you are ill). The subjects are told to expect numb feet, itching and a headache. Adrenaline does not produce such effects.

Ignorant condition - subjects are not told of any side-effects.

Euphoria condition - this is designed to allow the subject to label their physiological arousal (or non-arousal) as the feeling of happiness. The subject is asked to wait in a room for twenty minutes and are falsely told that they need to wait for the effect of Suproxin to take effect. There the subject is left with a pretend subject (the experimenter's stooge). The stooge goes through a prescribed routine designed to involve the subject in manic behaviour, and thereby produce a reason for the subject to feel happy. The activities are:

  1. doodling a fish on rough paper
  2. crumpling the paper, the stooge played basketball with it, with the use of a waste bin.
  3. Throwing the paper ball to the subject asking him to join in
  4. Continues game
  5. The Stooge gives up and makes a paper aeroplane instead.
  6. plays with throwing the plane
  7. throws plane at subject
  8. continues flying plane
  9. The stooge tears a part of the plane and makes a paper pellet. This is fired with a rubber band.
  10. Continues shooting
  11. builds a tower out of folders and shoots at it
  12. The stooge misses several times and then hits it giving a loud cheer.
  13. starts to pick up folders and notices a pair of hula hoops, and tries one
  14. The stooge twirls the hoop on his arm, whilst saying "Hey, look at this - this is great".
  15. replaces hula-hoop and sits down with feet on table
the experimenter then returns.

Anger condition - The subject is left in the room with the stooge. They are to fill in questionnaires. The questionnaire is supposed to make the subject have a reason for being angry, as the questions get progressively more personal. The stooge is there to encourage this angry feeling towards the experiment. The stooge starts by complaining about the injection. The stooge then keeps pace with the subject as the questionnaire is answered. The stooge adds negative comments about the questions. At the end of the session the stooge pretends to be so angry by ripping up the questionnaire. The experimenter then returns.


There are two types used - observation and self-report.



For each activity the extent to which the subject joined in was measured.

Two independent observers agreed on 88% of the items.

For each unit of activity the subject was coded according to how much they agreed or disagreed with the stooge.

Anger - Scoring of subject's behaviour
Subjects behaviour Example Score
Agrees 'I don't like that kind of personal question either +2
Disagrees 'Take it easy, they probably have a good reason for wanting the information' -2
Neutral Non-committal or irrelevant response 0
Initiates agreement 'Boy, I hate this kind of thing' +2
Initiates disagreement 'I'm enjoying this' -2
Watches 0
Ignores -1

The subject had their pulse taken again.

A questionnaire was given. the subject was falsely told that the experimenter wished to find out whether there could be any other factors that would affect the eye-sight test. The two key questions, that were placed amongst many others were:

  1. How irritated, angry or annoyed would you say you feel at present? This was answered on a 5 point scale ranging from 0 - I don't feel at all irritated or angry, to 4 - I feel extremely irritated and angry.
  2. How good or happy would you say you feel at present? This also was answered on a 5 point scale, ranging from 0 - I don't feel at all happy or good, to I feel extremely happy and good.

Other control questions were included to see whether the subjects had experienced any of the effects of the adrenaline, or had experienced any of the false symptoms that were given in the misinformed condition.


The subjects were male introductory psychology students at Minnesota university in the early 1960's. They received extra points on their final exam for participating!




Self-report of emotional state in the euphoria conditions
Condition Number of Subjects Average Self-report scales
Adrenalin Informed 25 0.98
Adrenaline Ignorant 25 1.78
Adrenaline Misinformed 25 1.90
Placebo (Saline) 26 1.61

As expected, the adrenaline misinformed group, and the adrenaline ignorant group, reported being happiest. This is because they experienced the effects of the adrenaline, and having no explanation as to why they felt that way, attributed the feelings to feeling happy. This result was significant (p is less than 0.01 {all values are 2-tailed}, adrenaline misinformed compared with adrenaline informed. Comparing adrenaline ignorant with adrenaline informed the significance level is 0.02).


Behavioural indications of emotional state in the euphoria conditions
Condition Activity index
Adrenaline Informed 12.72
Adrenaline Ignorant 18.28
Adrenaline Misinformed 22.56
Placebo 16.00

As expected, the adrenaline misinformed group joined in the activities more than the other groups. Comparing the adrenaline misinformed with the adrenaline informed the difference was significant at the 0.05 level. Unfortunately for Schachter and Singer the difference between the adrenaline ignorant and informed was not significant.



This didn't work. Most subjects were positive about their feelings. Schachter and Singer attribute this to the fact that they were students eager to please their tutors.


Behavioural indications of emotional state in the anger conditions
Condition Number of Subjects Anger Units
Adrenaline Informed 22 -0.18
Adrenaline Ignorant 23 +2.29
Placebo 22 +0.79

As there was no real difference between the adrenaline misinformed and ignorant groups, the misinformed group was not used for the anger conditions. We can conclude that the information about side effects did not produce auto-suggestion, and therefore the subject's experience of any side-effects was real.

For anger units, there was a significant difference between the adrenaline informed and adrenaline ignorant conditions, in the expected direction (ignorant getting angrier). p is less than 0.01.

The placebo group are moderately angry, coming between the other two conditions. Comparing the placebo group to the adrenaline ignorant group the difference is significant, with p less than 0.05.


Schachter and Singer found that a number of subjects reported that the needle gave them the "shivers". This could well have raised natural adrenaline levels, or could have given the subjects a reason for any side-effects that they experienced. Schachter and Singer re-analysed the results excluding these subjects, and found that significance levels increased.

Evaluation of Schachter-Singer's Theory

Your questions

3.Schachter and Singer: Determinants of Emotional State
I cannot find 2 ethical issues-Apart from deception.
protection of participants; the injection of adrenaline could have contributed to the death of a participant.  Also a stooge might have got thumped by a participant.
Consent; Participants gave their permission to be injected with a vitamin supplement and to have their eyes tested.
Observation: the participants were observed in a private place without consent.
Deception: the substance injected, the explanations given about the side effects and the stooge.


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