Compare and contrast the cognitive and social constructionist views of emotion?

In order to examine the question and compare and contrast the cognitive and social constructionist views of emotion it will first of all be necessary to review the definition given by the cognitive and social constructionist views and psychologists who support these views and look at their understanding of this theory.

In the cognitive theory of emotion the most important part is the reason which is inseparable. The emotion cannot work correctly without reason and the reason cannot work appropriately without emotion. Emotions have an effect on the situation. They coordinate and give contour to the situation. For example presume that young woman queuing up to the cash point and sees a man coming towards her with a knife in his hand. The woman’s reasoning will take the haste of the man with the knife and its direction in relationship to the woman queuing up at the cash point.

The reasoning part of the mind will send a signal the emotion of warning the woman, which will produce fear and panic and will trigger to escape from his way. If the reasoning part her mind will crash and be unsuccessful, the woman’s mind will not signal that she was in risk. If the emotional function of the woman will not responded to the warning given by reasoning function of the mind, she would be apathetic to the man coming towards her with a knife in his hand and she may been hurt or killed as a result of not responding to the danger. The emotional function of the mind must always work together with the reasoning function. Both of the functions help the person increase knowledge of a situation and influence an appropriate response. Humans can control or influence their emotion to see a situation as an object and be able to deal with it. Emotion is a key aspect of social change.

Cognitive theory of emotion can be better understood by analysing their strengths and weaknesses. The first strength of cognitive theories is that they mostly take into account many of the elements that become visible functions in emotion than the social theory of emotion. The emotion is always about something that are planned and intended. Some cognitive elements play a key role like a person’s belief, judgment or estimation in connection with the situation. You do not feel happy you are happy about something. The intended states are not just feeling they are feeling and behaviour. Emotions also have some cognitive dimension and they are not just state. There are many of cognitive theories and the theories of mind are often studied together with the theories of emotion. This is in line with one of the key ideology that emotion and reason are inseperable.

We have studied above that the cognitive theories of emotion state that emotion comes from within a person and is generally biological in nature. On the other hand the social constructive view and theories of emotion argue that emotion is not biological in nature but rather socio-cultural. According to the social constructive view emotion is influenced by society and culture. According to social labelling theory in order to identify emotion a human directs itself/ himself by some indicator from the environment in which he has grown up. According to this theory emotion is influenced by information indexed from surroundings.

If we analyse Schachter and Singer (1962) experiment to identify emotion when a person does not have full information and is in a state which we cannot fully explain, humans look for indicators from the environment. As was in the experiment of Schachter and Singer (1962) with adrenalin informed subject and not informed subject. In this experiment the indicator from surroundings was behaviour of the person (happy or wrathful/angry) that motivated that subject to find the name for his state. This theory of social labelling is often in use by many of the psychologists as a theory of social movement.

Another social theory is “theory of social deduction”. According to this theory emotion is a social learning state. According to this theory emotion is socially well-versed because one is growing up in some culture. Emotion is influenced by some culture or society. It is an imposed theory which helps explain the cause of human behaviour.

We can explain the cause of specific behaviour by analysis of specific environment where the subject was brought up. For example people learn to display angry or irritated behaviour when someone kicks or pushes them. This theory admits the right for mistakes, because sometimes it can be difficult to identify an emotion. To some it is a priority theory which allows us to explain human behaviour. This theory allows the possibility for humans to make mistakes when expressing an emotion. This theory states that we have to impose some of scheme and possibility to explain our own behaviour. But at times we experience problems to identify our own emotion as it can be really difficult.

This theory can by sometimes wrong. The theory allows the possibility to make mistakes and give the opportunity to people to present the false facts of the emotional state. The theory allows mistakes by incorrectly reading our own behaviour. In effect in some cases one can deny some of the real emotion or express them differently to what is really being experienced.

Another theory is theory of social constructivism which is similar to the social theory of deduction. According to social constructivism theory emotion are intellectual interpretations which serve to show the behaviour as something which is significant and comprehensible. Social constructivism treats the emotion as social and intellectual representation. The theory presents the intellectual construct which characterise the behaviour than some emotion. Constructivism treats emotion as semantic interpretation to show the behaviour as something significant and understandable.

According to Teodor Kemper (1987) emotion does not exist inside a person without the influence from outside. He believed that emotions are deep – rooted to evolution. According to him evolution has social character plus it is clear that emotion does not exist inside. According to him primordial emotion such as anger, depression, fear and happiness, have physiological character. These emotions are universal for all human kind.


T. D. Kemper, (1987) “Research Agendas in the Sociology of Emotions” American Psychological Association Convention.



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