Understanding AP Psychology

Emotions, Stress, & Health

Emotions and stress are ultimately unavoidable. The best option is to control the stress and emotions that your body undergoes... and to learn about it!

Theories of Emotion

The James-Lange Theory: our experience of emotion is our awareness of our physiological responses to emotion-arousing stimuli

The Cannon Bard Theory: an emotion-arousing stimulus simultaneously triggers physiological responses and the subjective experience of emotion

The Schachter-Singer Theory: also known as the two-factor theory, to experience emotion one must be physically aroused and cognitively label the arousal

Emotions on the ANS

The autonomic nervous system responds to emotions quickly and sometimes in ways that are hard to notice. The sympathetic division arouses the body while the parasympathetic division calms the body.



Physiological relationship with Emotion

Fear and joy can raise heart rate to similar speeds however they stimulate different facial muscles. Fear causes brow tensing and joy causes smiling. Fearful faces are linked with amygdala activity. The left frontal lobe controls more positive moods and emotions.


Neuroscience on Emotion

Joseph LeDoux theory defines the brain's reflexes as having a possiblilty of taking two different routes depending on emotion. The "low road" bypasses the cortex via neural pathways from the thalamus to the amygdala and activates a fear response. The "high road" is slower to respond and travels through cortical areas of the brain. The "low road" creates a much faster response while the "high road" takes a longer time to process but leaves a better impression of what the stimulus is.

Detecting Emotion

Facial expressions display emotions like an open book. Although the human brain is developed enough to to pick up the slightest change in emotion based on facial expression, it is exceptionally difficult to detect when one is being deceived. In a study of 206 people only 54% of people guessed correctly when they are being deceived or not.

Gender's Effect on Emotion

Men and women alike can detect emotions, however women have been proved superior at reading emotional cues. Lisa Feldman Barrett developed the idea that women react more in depth than men to emotions. Anger is perceived as a more masculine emotion. Females are more likely than men to express empathy, which is the feeling related to the expression "being able to walk in someone else's shoes".

Culture on Emotional Expression

Hand and body gestures are different from culture to culture. Such as a thumb turned upward in the air means good job in North America, it is an insulting gesture in other countries. In two investigative studies, Paul Ekman and his colleagues and Carroll Izard identified six facial expressions that can be understood and interpreted the same internationally. The six emotions are happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger and disgust. Cultures also accept emotions in varying ways. Western nations are more accepting of expressions of emotions than some Asian countries.

Facial Feedback

Facial feedback is the effect that a facial expression intensifies the actual emotion. For example making an angry face intensifies the feeling of anger, similarly smiling increases the feeling of happiness.

Emotions Can Be Described on Two Dimensions


Fear is an adaptive alarm system that prepares the body for harm and to flee from danger. Fear can be learned and adapted. Fearful expressions improve peripheral vision and speed eye movements which boosts sensory input.





Anger is a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility. The idea of catharsis is emotional release. Catharsis has not been proven to be effective in any long term fashion. There are effective ways to reduce anger in waiting it out and in dealing with anger in a non-aggressive way.




Happiness is the overwhelming feeling of positive emotions. Positive feelings encourage positive results through out life. The do good feel good effect is people’s tendency to be helpful when already in a good mood. Wealth and well being has really no strong effect on  happiness even though that is what is expected. Things that do predict happiness is having high self esteem, being optimistic, having close friendships or marriages, having work that engages skills, having a meaningful faith and consistent sleep and exersice.





Stress neither a stimulus or a response. It is the process by which we assess and deal with external environmental threats and challenges. Short lived periods of stress can be a helpful and positive thing on a persons life. A small amount of stress has the ability to stabilize the immune system and act as a form of motivation. Prolonged stress can cause illnesses and poor health quality. During the times of stress, the sympathetic nervous system increases heart rate and respiration, slows digestion and sends blood to the skeletal muscles and dulls pain all to prepare the body for Cannon's fight or flight theory. Hans Selye's research on the general adaption syndrome extends on Cannon's theory. The general adaption syndrome is the concept of the body’s adaptive response to stress in three phases which are alarm, resistance, exhaustion. In a study done by Friedman and Rosenman two "types" of people were categorized. People who seem reactive, competitive, impatient, time-conscious, motivated, verbally aggressive, and easily angered are considered to be Type A. People who are seemingly more easygoing they called Type B.

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