Ever been dragged to some horrible film and wondered what it would take to make it bearable? All the way back in the '60s, scientists had the answer for you: It's drugs! (And possibly a better screenwriter.)

The two-factor theory of emotion states that our emotions are dependent not just on our minds, but on our bodies. Emotions like anger, happiness, or even love, are a combination of the thoughts in our minds and the physical effects we feel, but those physical effects can be simulated. The theory originated with Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer, who tested it in a few interesting ways.


One involved giving people epinephrine, telling them it was a vitamin, and putting them in a room to fill out a very rude questionnaire. A lab assistant was in the room, pretending to be a fellow subject. The assistant pretended to get ever more angry, saying the questionnaire was too personal. Those who had been drugged, but not told they'd been drugged, got angry right along with the assistant. They felt their heart pounding and their face flushing, and anger came naturally. People who had been given a placebo, or who had been given the epinephrine but had been told about its effects, were relatively calm. Those who hadn't been drugged didn't have the physical effects. Those who had been drugged, but had also been informed, knew that some of what they were feeling came artificially. The ignorant and drugged, however, just assumed that their out-sized physical reactions were the result of rage, and so felt rage.

When Schachter teamed up with Ladd Wheeler they elaborated on the theory. The team tested the effect of a depressant as well as a stimulant, and they showed us the right way to pump up an audience's reaction to a movie. The psychologists once again drugged their ignorant patients. This time they gave some a stimulant, some a placebo, and some a depressant. The subjects were shown a film from 1950, The Good Humor Man. A slapstick comedy, it follows the trials of an honest ice cream seller who gets framed for a gangland murder. After the film, the subjects filled out a questionnaire about how amusing they found it. The sedated group found it least funny, the placebo group were in the middle, and the people on stimulants thought it was a scream.

Again, emotion was made up of two components, the actual humor provided by the movie and the person's appreciation of it, and the physical exhilaration of the drugs. If you want to really enjoy a movie, it seems good to drug yourself, and even better to secretly drug everyone around you.


[Via Perspectives on Psychology, The Two-Factor Theory of Emotion.]