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Emotional Psychology: James-Lange Theory Essay

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Updated: Apr 26th, 2021

The James-Lange theory is one of the earliest examples of the hypotheses dealing with emotional psychology. According to its author, William James and Carl Lange, emotion is a direct consequence of the physiological reaction to the external stimulus. This suggestion contradicted the widely held belief that emotion was the cause of the physiological feedback (Hunt, 2007). In other words, according to James-Lange theory, an individual interprets an increased heart rate as a reason to feel aroused, rather than becoming agitated first and sending the command to the heart to speed up later.

The theory was met with severe criticism at the time of its introduction in the early twentieth century. The first weak point was the centers responsible for emotion suggested by James that were demonstrated to be false by the experiments. Besides, the opponents of the theory pointed to the fact that many emotional states shared a range of similar physiological conditions, such as sweating, increased heartbeat, and adrenaline discharge. Thus, the emotion could not be determined properly when it relied solely on the physiological response (Andrewes, 2015).

However, later findings also suggested that the theory is not unfounded. First, the research aimed at determining the dependency of emotion on cultural issues has concluded that the recognition of facial expressions is modified little by the cultural impact (Scherer & Ekman, 2014), which weakens the suggested opposing view. Second, the studies in the field of affective neuroscience have confirmed James-Lange assumptions to some degree, primarily by showing the undeniable causality between facial expressions and emotion. Several studies show that the forced mimicking of the emotion triggers the corresponding physiological feedback (Izard, 2013).

It is important to note that both sides currently do not present enough evidence to either confirm or disprove the theory. Nevertheless, the initial hypothesis still explains at least some otherwise unexplainable phenomena and may prove useful for further findings in cognitive psychology.

A couple of years ago I volunteered to be a member of the assistance team on an open-air music festival. Our duties included assisting the participants and visitors, providing information regarding the event, and monitoring the visitors’ compliance with the rules. The participation resulted in an interesting experience, especially after analyzing the results using Larson and LaFasto’s eight characteristics of effective teams (Larson & LaFasto, 1989).

As all of the volunteers were guaranteed free admittance, it is natural to assume that some were financially motivated. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority has demonstrated the unified commitment and allegiance to the festival’s policy of a drug-free zone, thus adhering to a clear, elevating goal. Additionally, the friendly atmosphere of an event and an informal setting has contributed to the highly collaborative climate.

At the same time, the said setting was responsible for the lack of principled leadership, which could be boiled down to giving orders by the management. It was also responsible for the almost non-existing standards of excellence or external recognition, limited only by our desire to perform decently. The result-driven structure was not required in these circumstances, so we focused on the process instead, trying to be as helpful as possible. Finally, the competence of team members was not required by the terms. As a result, we had a good time, but exhibited little teamwork or hardly produced any results beyond our capabilities.

Two conclusions can be drawn from the experience. First is the obvious pattern that emerged in the highly motivated group acting in the informal environment, where three characteristics are high while the rest are medium to low. The second is my assessment of the management as viewed from the subordinate’s position. I was always a proponent of liberal leadership style, which in this setting was not boosted but rather hampered by the lack of strict requirements.


Andrewes, D. (2015). Neuropsychology: from theory to practice. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Hunt, M. (2007). The story of psychology. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Izard, C. (2013). Human emotions. New York, NY: Springer Science & Business Media.

Larson, C., & LaFasto, F. (1989). Teamwork: what must go right/what can go wrong. London, UK: SAGE Publications.

Scherer, K., & Ekman, P. (2014). Approaches to emotion. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Emotional Psychology: James-Lange Theory'. 26 April.

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