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Thoughts and bodies in emotion

Emotions are both physiological and cognitive, as this famous experiment involving an attractive woman and a scary bridge demonstrates.

Emotions are both physiological and cognitive, as this famous experiment involving an attractive woman and a scary bridge demonstrates.

For this step of the course, we’ve put together a video explaining a famous experiment conducted by Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron in 1974. This experiment is probably in every psychology textbook, near the start of a chapter titled ‘Emotion’, because it’s an exceptionally vivid illustration of a principle that’s been long known in psychology.

What they did demonstrate was the dual nature of emotion: emotion involves both

  • Physiological responses – this means that your body has physically changed after something happened. Examples might include your heart beating faster, your palms getting sweaty, your breathing getting shallower, your hands shaking, your whole body jumping in the air.

  • Cognitive responses – the word ‘cognitive’ in psychology means, basically, stuff related to thinking and mental processes – how we analyse, interpret, and store information (some of which is deliberate and conscious, and some of which is less conscious and more instinctive).

After all, without the physiological response, we don’t feel anything, but without the cognitive response we don’t quite know what we’re feeling.

And because we’re starting to use words with specific meanings in psychology, a reminder that we have a glossary, at step 1.5, where we have listed what the terms we are using mean.

Your task

Use the comments link below to share your thoughts on the following:

  • Can you think of a time when you might have been tricked by your emotions?
  • If so, what was the physiological reaction you had, and what was the cognitive response you had?
  • If you were tricked, why was the cognitive response inappropriate?

References

Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(4), 510-517. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0037031

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