Mandler (e.g., 1984) has developed a theory over a number of years that bears many similarities to Schachter and Singer's proposals while presenting a more complex role for cognitive processes. In Mandler's theory, physiological arousal is considered to arise from perceived discrepancy or from the interruption to an ongoing goal or plan. The arousal is seen as an undifferentiated physiological state that underlies both positive and negative emotions; cognition determines which emotion is actually experienced. As Mandler (1984) states: "Arousal provides the intensity of the emotional state, and cognition provides its quality" (p. 119). A particular event therefore has a dual function in that on the one hand it triggers the state of arousal and on the other hand it provides input for the cognitive interpretative process. Mandler points out that many environmental stimuli provide automatic responses in the individual; for example, a sudden loss of physical support typically produces a startle response and a subsequent range of negative emotions. However, if the loss of support is under the individual's control, such as when diving into a swimming pool, then the experience may be one of pleasure and excitement rather than being negative; thus, interpretation of the arousal determines whether it is experienced positively or negatively.
Mandler argues that many of the discrepancies and interruptions that are experienced are not derived from such hardwired reflex-like mechanisms, but are based on schema-derived expectations that are not fulfilled. For example, a spouse who forgets a wedding anniversary fails to fulfil an important expectation, which is likely to lead to negative emotional consequences. In relation to interruptions, while temporary interrupts such as the telephone ringing just as you are sitting down to a meal may be mildly annoying, the "interruption" of a significant life goal such as a woman sacrificing her career for her husband's benefit may contribute to the development of more chronic negative emotional states. Mandler's theory is important, therefore, in that it provides a transition towards the more recent goal-based approaches to emotion that we will consider subsequently.
In relation to the experience of positive discrepancies, Mandler pointed out that humour, for example, often works through the failure to fulfil a schema-driven expectation; to use an example or two from that well-known raconteur, Sigmund Freud (who not only told them, but even went on to tell us why they weren't funny!):
An impoverished individual borrowed twenty five florins from a prosperous acquaintance, with many asseverations of his necessitous circumstances. The very same day his benefactor met him again in a restaurant with a plate of salmon mayonnaise in front of him. The benefactor reproached him: "What? You borrow money from me and then order yourself salmon mayonnaise? Is that what you've used my money for?" "I don't understand you," replied the object of the attack: "if I haven't any money I can't eat salmon mayonnaise, and if I have some money I mustn't eat salmon mayonnaise. Well, then, when am I to eat salmon mayonnaise?" (1905/1976, p. 86)
Or, in a vein reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's "work is the curse of the drinking classes":
A man who had taken to drink supported himself by tutoring in a small town. His vice gradually became known, however, and as a result he lost most of his pupils. A friend was commissioned to urge him to mend his ways. "Look, you could get the best tutoring in the town if you would give up drinking. So do give it up!" "Who do you think you are?" was the indignant reply. "I do tutoring so that I can drink. Am I to give up drinking so that I can get tutoring?" (1905/1976, pp. 88-89)
In both of these humorous stories, the normal expectations are explicitly presented by the "straight guys"; the humorous content arises from the creative views, which are discrepant with these expectations.
In summary, Mandler's theory bears many similarities with Schachter and Singer's approach, but it has the advantage that cognitive mechanisms have a more elaborate or sophisticated role to play (cf. the discussion of Aquinas and Spinoza in Chapter 2). In addition, whereas physiological arousal seemed to arise from a biological mechanism in Schachter and Singer's approach, the perception of interruption or discrepancy in Mandler's approach requires a preliminary cognitive interpretation of the input; thus, cognitive processes both lead to the initial physiological arousal and then determine the type of emotion that is experienced. However, although Mandler's approach provides a step forward in terms of the cognitive interpretation component, the theory shares the weakness that it is based on a single type of autonomic arousal. As we argued in the case of Schachter and Singer, we believe that there is now sufficient evidence to show that there is no single undifferentiated state of arousal that is the basis for all emotions, but rather there are distinct physiological states associated with different emotions or groups of emotions. In addition, Mandler's suggestion that the interruption causes the emotion may, under many circumstances, put the cart before the horse, in that sometimes it may be the emotion that causes the interruption rather than vice versa. We will return to this issue subsequently when we consider recent appraisal theories.
Was this article helpful?