To what extent do cognitive and biological factors interact in emotion?


  • Introduce topic by explaining the cognitive level of analysis 
    • The cognitive level of analysis aims to study the inner processes of the mind and how cognitive processes guide behaviour.
    • As such, within this level of analysis, emotion has been investigated in terms of the biological and cognitive influences. 

  • What is emotion? 
    • Emotion can be defined as the body’s adaptive response to a particular situation. 

  • Give Examples 
    • Ekman et al. (1972) identified/discovered 6 fundamental emotions that were consistent across cultures. This includes (FASSHD): 
      • Fear
      • Anger
      • Surprise
      • Sadness
      • Happiness 
      • Disgust 
    • These primary set of emotions are viewed as universal that is, they are expressed facially in the same way, and are recognised, by all members of diverse cultures 
      • Suggests that emotion is genetic (biological) rather than cognitive. 

  • Explain the interaction of how emotions can be a result of cognitive and or biological factors 
    • Emotions are sometimes dependent or are initiated through physiological and or cognitive factors.
  • Define cognition 
    • Cognition can be defined as the mental processes of acquiring and processing knowledge and understanding through though, experiences and the senses occurring within the mind
    • The mind cannot exist nor function independently without these processes. 

  • Define physiology 
    • Whereas physiology is the internal, biological mechanisms (hormones, neurotransmitters, localization of brain function) of living organisms – which is the way the organism functions. 

  • State purpose of your essay 
    • As such, this essay response will aim to consider the argument or concept of how both cognitive and biological factors interact in emotion and influence how humans experience emotion. A conclusion will then be made regarding the extent in which these factors influence emotion. 

  • State theories of emotion 
    • Le Doux Theory
    • James-Lange Theory
    • Cannon-Bard Theory
    • Schachter & Singer's cognitive labelling theory (Two-Factor Theory) 
    • Darwin's evolutionary theory 
    • Lazarus' appraisal theory of emotion 

  • State which theories which will be discussed 
    • In order to determine to what extent emotion is influenced by biological or cognitive factors, a set of theories, which have supported the notion that both factors influence how humans experience emotion include:  
      • Biological Focus
        • LeDoux Theory
      •  Cognition Focus
        • TwFactor Theory
        • Lazarus Appraisal Theory

  • These theories clearly state that both factors influence an emotional thus interacting with emotion.


  • Introduce BIOLOGICAL factors of emotion
    • Biological psychologists view emotion as a primarily somatic (bodily) process. 
    • These somatic processes may be:
      • body arousal 
      • hormones 
      • facial expressions, associated to be with pleasant or unpleasant mental states of mind 
      • physiological changes, such as the arousal of the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system 
      • brain activity 
      • neurochemical processes 

  • Outline COGNITIVE factors in emotion
    • Cognitive psychologists assume that conscious and unconscious mental processes can influence emotions.
    • Focus more on mental aspects of emotions and how unconscious and conscious mental processes influence emotional experiences and actions.
    • This guides cognitive and rational emotive therapies, which assume that cognitions and emotions are interrelated, and that negative cognitions will lead to negative emotions.
      • Those negative emotions may come out of people’s faulty interpretations of experiences, and that is by raising awareness of, challenging and changing those beliefs that may alter our mood.

  • Explain the interaction between cognitive and biological factors in emotion 
    • Emotions can be initiated through physiological and cognitive factors. 
    • It is assumed that emotions consist of three components: 
      • Physiological changes (biological reactions)
      • Subjective feeling of the emotion (cognitions)
      • ...which then leads to an associated behaviour and thus emotion is expressed. 
    • Thus, cognitive and biological factors interact to produce an emotional response to an event. 
      • Therefore a bidirectional relationship exists between cognitive and biological factors in emotion 

  • Introduce first theory – Le Doux 
    • One example of a researcher, which demonstrates a biological and cognitive interaction in emotion, is Le Doux.
    • Le Doux based his research on animals, and investigated the brain’s emotional circuit. 

Theory 1: Le Doux’s Model of Emotion 
  • Explain theory:
    • Le Doux discovered that for fear responses, there are two neurological pathways:
      • The short route: that goes from the sensory store in the thalamus to the amygdala 
      • The long route: traverses the neo-cortex and the hippocampus before it results in a fear response.
    • Le Doux argues that there is an evolutionary advantage of having two separate pathways for fear responses.
    • During times of danger: 
      • The short route is effective, as it will lead to a quick, but often inaccurate response. 
      • The long route however, is slower, but will allow for a more thorough evaluation of a situation, and a more appropriate response. 
    • Therefore, the amygdala receives input from the sensory processing areas in the neo-cortex and thalamus and projects to areas in the brainstem controlling the fight or flight response. Diagram:

Key Experiment 1: Le Doux Rat Experiment

Introduce studylink to question:

  • A further study conducted by Le Doux to find out where the brain stores emotional memory, which pairs the tone and shock in memory demonstrating his theory...


  • To investigate the brain’s emotional circuit – effects of lesions on fear conditioning


  • Made lesions in specific neural pathways in rats to determine the functions of the damaged pathways and disrupt the conditioning response. 
  • The lesions were first made in the auditory context where the brain processes sound. 
  • And the auditory thalamus – which provides most auditory inputs to the cortex. 


  • Found that the brain structures of the thalamus and the amygdala play different roles in the generation of emotion. 
    • Lesion in the auditory cortex rats still learned to fear tone.
    • Lesion in the auditory thalamus eliminated the rats’ susceptibility (vulnerability) to fear conditioning.
  • Most of the cells in the thalamus transmit to the cortex 
    • BUT some also transmit to the amygdala, a region of the brain already implicated in various emotional behaviours. 
  • Thus indicating that the pathways with lesions led to the thalamus or amygdala, affected emotional responses. 


  • It can be concluded that the biological factor of brain damage to either of these areas would result in issues in generating emotions. 
Connection of study to question 

  • This supports that biological factors DO interact in emotion to a great extent. 

Supporting Study 1: Gazzaniga et al. (2000)

Introduce study --> link to question: 

  • Another study supporting Le Doux’s Biological Model/Theory of Emotion is by Gazzaniga et al. (2000) 

  • To investigate the effect on emotional responses as a result of brain damage (in the pre-frontal lobe and amygdala) in autistic children. 

  • Found that autistic children had trouble naming emotions from a set of facial expressions. 

  • It demonstrates that brain damage impaired the children’s ability to recognise the emotions expressed on faces. 
  • ... and furthermore that certain areas in the brain, such as the pre-frontal lobe and the amygdala are related to emotional processing. 

Connection of study to question 

  • Indicates that biological factors DO interact in emotion, supporting Le Doux’s Biological Model. 

Further Studies that support this theory include

  • Branchard and Branchard (1972)
    • Rats lost their fears of cats as the amygdale was lesion
  • Philips (1964)
    • Birds lost fear of humans after there was a lesion in amygdala


  • However, one should be cautious in drawing too far reaching conclusions, as the research conductedn these biological processes suffers from methodological weaknesses. This includes the fact that...:

  • Explain how Le Doux’s theory supports interaction between biological and cognitive factors in emotion
    • This suggests that the amygdala plays a central part/role in determining and controlling emotional responses in the brain.
    • Thus the connections between these structures allow the amygdala to transform sensory information into emotional signals and therefore control emotional responses.
    • Le Doux’s theory (of emotional circuits in the brain) supports biological factors in emotion as it identifies that the amygdala and surrounding brain processes play a central role in determining and controlling emotional responses in the brain.
    • The theory also supports cognitive factors in emotion because the situation is appraised though the long route.
    • Thus it cannot be said that biological factors alone interact with emotion, but cognition also plays a role in creating and controlling these emotional responses.

Theory 2: Schacter and Singer’s Two-factor Theory (1962) 

  • Explain theory:
    • Two factors interact to determine specific emotions
      • Physiological arousal
      • Emotion interpretation and labelling of the physiological arousal
    • Strength of the physiological arousal determines the intensity of emotion
    • Interpretation of physiological arousal determines which particular emotion is experienced

  • Explain how the two-factor theory supports interaction between biological and cognitive factors in emotion
    • Perception of stimulus may lead to bodily physiological arousal
    • Physiological arousal is necessary for emotional experience, but needs to be labelled or interpreted by cognitive appraisal of the situation
    • If a state of unexplained bodily arousal is induced, people will look around and try to explain the arousal in terms of their environment
    • This cognitive appraisal results in labelling of the arousal as an emotional experience.

Key Study 2: Schacter and Singer (1962)

  • To test the two factor theory of emotion (that emotion arises from a combination of cognition and arousal), using the hormone, adrenaline
  • 184 college males 
  • Divided into 4 groups
    • All groups were told that they were going to be given an injection of Suproxin in order to test its effects on vision
    • Even though men were really receiving adrenaline and:
      • Informed of the correct effects of adrenaline (under the impression that it was suproxin) 
      • Given no information on effects 
      • Given false effects 
    • Last group was given a placebo 
  • 4 Groups divided into 2 subgroups  
    • Condition 1 euphoria
      • Confederate encouraged participant to play with games inside the waiting room (withffice equipment) 
    • Condition 2 anger
      • Confederate completed a questionnaire at the same pace as the participant but became more and more angry as the questions became more personal
  • Participants were observed for changes in emotion
  • Participants were then asked to fill out a questionnaire detailing their state of emotion
  • Showed that participants that were given information on the effects of adrenaline showed minimal changes in emotion because they had an accurate explanation of their emotion
  • But those who had been told no effect showed much higher changes in emotion because they had no explanation for their state of arousal, so they used cues of the confederate's behaviour and labelled their emotions
    • These participants changed their behaviour according to cognitive appraisal of their emotions, rather than specific physiological arousal, indicating that only general arousal is required.
  • Researchers concluded that emotion occurs by a process of cognitive labelling: the interpretation of physiological cues is combined with contextual cues to construct a person's subjective experience of emotion
Connection of study to question
  • This study supports that a combination of physiological change (adrenaline) and cognitive labelling (appraisal of the situation) can contribute to changes in emotion

  • Introduce importance of first theory – Lazarus’ Theory of Appraisal:
    • Cognitive researchers on emotion usually emphasize the importance of cognitive appraisal.

Theory 3: Lazarus’ Theory of Appraisal (1982; 1991)

  • Explain theory: 
    • The appraisal theory of emotion is based on the evaluation of situations according to the significance they have for us, therefore it has more of a cognitive basis 
      • Suggests that cognition is essential.
    • This theory states that emotion is experienced when, in our interaction with the environment, we assess our surroundings as to whether it is beneficial or harmful for our well-being. 
      • Appraisals are interpretations of situations and how they will affect one’s well-being.
      • Appraisals are both conscious and unconscious; contribute to the quality and intensity of an emotion.
    • The appraisal theory is based on two concepts: 
      • Primary appraisal – where the organism assesses the significance or meaning of the event. Three components: 
        • Motivational relevance – relevance to goals? (If positive, then there is emotion) 
        • Motivational congruence – favourable to goals? (Positive emotion when yes, negative emotion when no) 
        • Accountability – who is responsible for what is happening? 
      • Secondary appraisal – when the organism appraises the consequence of the event and decides on how to act. It also has three components: 
        • Problem-focused coping – cope with a situation by changing it to make it less threatening for an individual to cope 
        • Emotion-focused coping – change the situation by how I feel about it (e.g. reinterpreting). 
        • Future expectancy – To what extent can I expect the situation will change? 

Supporting Experiment 2: Speisman et al. (1964) 

Introduce study --> link to question: 

  • A supporting experiment which demonstrates how cognitive appraisals are affected by bodily responses (emotions) to stressful situations, which is illustrated by Speisman et al. (1964). 

  • To demonstrate the influence of appraisal on emotional experiences. 
  • Participants were shown a ‘stressful’ film about ‘unpleasant’ genital surgery depicting Aboriginal boys have circumcision in the context of puberty. 
  • Accompanied by soundtrack, in which investigators manipulated the ‘appraisal’ of the surgery by showing the film with 3 conditions + 1 control: 
      •  Trauma condition – pain experienced by boys and use of knife were emphasized 
      •  Denial – boys anticipation of entering manhood pointed out thus de-emphasizing the pain  (presented the p’s as happy and deliberate) 
      •  Intellectualization – soundtrack ignored emotional aspects of situation and emphasized traditions of aboriginal culture 
      •  Silent – nothing 
  • Arousal state measured by galvanic skin response (GSR) measure of electrical conductivity of skin and indicator of autonomic arousal and heart rate.
  • Observations and self-reports showed that participants reacted more ‘emotionally’ to the soundtrack that was more traumatic. 
  • Lowest in intellectualization and silent conditions. 
  • The way participants appraised (act of assessing someone or something) what they were seeing in the film affected their physiological experience in terms of emotion. 


  • Methodological problems – It is possible that the participants’ reactions were primarily affected by the music, not that the music affected the appraisal of the situation. 
  • Thus, according to appraisal theory, it can be concluded that the music affected the appraisal of the situation, which in turn affected the emotional reaction to it. 
  • ...the cognitive factor of how we appraise certain situations influences our emotional responses
Connection of study to question 
  • This supports that cognitive factors DO interact in emotion to a great extent. 

  • State connection to cognitive interactions within emotion: 
    • Thus, Lazarus’ theory of appraisal states that ‘we experience emotions when interacting with our environment and appraise good and bad to our well-being.
    • Lazarus suggests that the specific emotions experienced are determined by the pattern of answers the individual gives throughout the components of the primary and second appraisal. 


  • The theories discussed above suggest that cognitive and biological factors contribute and interact in emotion. 
  • According to the information processing view of the brain (supported by Le Doux), emotion is produced as cognitive and perceptual processing occurs in brain regions such as the thalamus, hippocampus, amygdala and the pre-frontal lobe (biological factors) 
  • According to the TFT, emotion results from physiological arousal and cognitive labelling 
  • According tLazarus’ theory of appraisal, evaluation of situations (cognition) determines emotion 
  • These theories have been supported through much research, and although there were a few limitations within the studies, there have been no other theories or research that opposes the idea that biological and cognitive factors influence emotion. 
    • Therefore, all of these theories suggest that both cognitive and biological factors interact in emotion to a LARGE extent