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The James-Lange Theory

Updated on March 23, 2012

The most influential theory of emotions was proposed in 1884 by William James, the American psychologist and philosopher.

A Danish physiologist, Carl Lange, without prior knowledge of James' writings, published the same concept in 1887, the proposition came to be known as the James-Lange theory.

Prior to the formulation of this theory, it had been assumed that emotions were aroused by ideas that the provoking situation aroused in the individual's mind. To use a simple example: man sees bear; man feels afraid; man runs away.

James and Lange reversed the sequence: man sees bear; man runs away; man feels afraid. According to this view, the physiological reactions are an immediate reflex response to the provoking stimulus. The emotion appears only when the individual senses that bodily changes are occurring.

Emotion, according to this theory, is the awareness of physiological reactions-for example, in the glands and other organs in the abdomen that are aroused at once when the provoking situation affects the observer. Accordingly, a man does not cry because he feels sad, he is sad because he has begun to cry. Whereas it had been assumed that physiological reactions followed some sort of judgment or appreciation of the provoking situation as safe or dangerous, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, the James-Lange theory asserted that the physiological reactions either preceded or were at the very least simultaneous with the awareness of an emotional experience.


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    • LailaK profile image

      LailaK 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Short and simple! I like the examples you used to explain this theory. When I was taking psychology, I was always confused between this theory, the Cannon-Bard theory, and the Schachter-Singer theory. Well done and voted up!