Theories of Measuring Emotions Research

The measurement of emotions proved to be a challenging task since humans often experience them instinctively and find a rational response more difficult. Alternative explanations of difficulty in emotion measurement have to take into account multiple theories of emotion that strive to explain it as a fact of cognition or psyche. Researchers have come up with various models that strive to evaluate emotions in terms of a conceptual framework.

The so-called James-Lange theory so named after two prominent psychologists, William James and Carl Lange, states that first “we have physiological responses to a situation, and only then do we use those responses to formulate an experience of emotion” (Boeree, 2002). If one assumes that this theory is true, then difficulties in measuring naturally-occurring various emotions are easily accountable for. A human being cannot cope with the whole multitude of emotions that stem from bodily mechanisms. This is impossible since humans do not react rationally to physiological impulses and in general have a poor understanding of what is going on in their bodies.

The Cannard-Bard theory modified the explanation to some degree. It states that not physiological responses lead to emotions, but emotions trigger physiological reactions. Out of the two neural paths that lead to the appearance of emotions, “one goes to the cortex, where we have a subjective experience, and one goes to the hypothalamus, where the physiological processes begin” (Boeree, 2002). In any case, this does not make emotions more easily measurable in terms of subjective evaluation, as such evaluation will almost inevitably lead to misinterpretation of bodily reactions that underlie physiology.

A cognitive appraisal theory of emotions suggests that emotion is based on the objective evaluation of the situation and its impact on the interpretation of events as good or bad for the personal well-being of an individual. This is called “primary appraisal”, followed by the “secondary appraisal” in which “we consider how we might cope with the situation” (Changing Minds, 2006). This theory makes it easier to explain emotions in a rational way. From my personal observation, however, it appears that it does not apply to every situation as I often experienced emotions that were not quite understandable from the viewpoint of my personal well-being, such as the feeling of guilt.

The evaluation of emotions is also difficult because to accomplish this, a person has to develop a framework that will fit into scholarly models. To this point, most scientific frameworks such as Izard’s Differential Emotions Scale are organized around basic dimensions. In Izard’s system, these dimensions, for example, include anger, contempt, disgust, distress, fear, guilt, interest, joy, shame, and surprise (Villegas, Stout, 2001). However, this scale can be reduced or extended in various interpretations, and there can hardly be a universal framework for the definition of human emotion. This is why fitting natural emotions into a simplified scholarly model can appear challenging.

The PAD model advanced by Russell and Mehrabian focuses on three components of emotion: Pleasure, Arousal, Dominance. All of these feelings are linked to the stimulus and can occur at the subconscious level. These dimensions have been proved to be workable in scientific research, but they “do not tap the whole spectrum of emotions” (Villegas, Stout, 2001). This, too, makes exact evaluation difficult as it has to fit into specific modes that are only three in number.


Boeree, C.G. Emotion. Retrieved July 25, 2006, from
Changing Minds. (n.d.). Theories About Emotion. Retrieved July 25, 2006, from
Villegas, G., & Stout, P. (2001). Measurement and the Role of Emotions While Browsing on the Web. Retrieved July 25, 2006, from

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