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Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

People seek social comparison information to evaluate their abilities and opinions. Do they also turn to others to determine something as subjective as their own emotions? In classic experiments on affil- iation, Stanley Schachter (1959) found that when people were frightened into thinking they would receive painful electric shocks, most sought the company of others who were in the same predicament. Nervous and uncertain about how they should be feeling, participants wanted to affiliate with similar others, presumably for the purpose of comparison. Yet when they were not fearful and expected only mild shocks or when the “others” were not taking part in the same experiment, participants preferred to be alone. As Schachter put it, “Misery doesn’t just love any kind of company; it loves only miserable company” (p. 24).

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To test this provocative two-factor theory of emotion, Schachter and Singer (1962) injected male volunteers with epinephrine, a drug that heightens physio- logical arousal. Although one group was forewarned about the drug’s effects, a second group was not. Members of a third group were injected with a harmless placebo. Before the drug (which was described as a vitamin supplement) actually took effect, participants were left alone with a male confederate introduced as another participant who had received the same injection. In some sessions, the confederate behaved in a euphoric manner. For 20 minutes, he bounced around happily, doodling on scratch paper, sinking jump shots into the wastebasket, fly- ing paper airplanes across the room, and playing with a Hula-Hoop. In other ses- sions, the confederate displayed anger, making fun of a questionnaire they were filling out and, in a fit of rage, ripping it up and hurling it into the wastebasket.

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