Previous: Impulse Buying: Why You Buy Stuff You Don't Need
Next: How to Stick to Your Resolutions This Year



View count:144,225
Last sync:2024-06-22 20:00
Some emotions can feel so similar that you might mix them up and pick the wrong emotion.

Hosted by: Brit Garner
Support SciShow by becoming a patron on Patreon:
Dooblydoo thanks go to the following Patreon supporters:
Kelly Landrum Jones, Sam Lutfi, Kevin Knupp, Nicholas Smith, Inerri, D.A. Noe, alexander wadsworth, سلطان الخليفي, Piya Shedden, KatieMarie Magnone, Scott Satovsky Jr, Bella Nash, Charles Southerland, Bader AlGhamdi, James Harshaw, Patrick Merrithew, Patrick D. Ashmore, Candy, Tim Curwick, charles george, Saul, Mark Terrio-Cameron, Viraansh Bhanushali, Kevin Bealer, Philippe von Bergen, Chris Peters, Justin Lentz
Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet?
[♩INTRO ].

Isn't love just grand? The way your heart races and your stomach gets all full of butterflies.

You can't sleep or eat or … wait, wait, that sounds terrible! In fact, it kind of sounds like the nerves you get before a big test or that brief moment of panic just before a roller coaster plummets. That's because emotions like love, anxiety, and fear can feel really similar.

In fact, they can feel so similar that you sometimes mix them up. It's called misattribution, and understanding why it happens can tell you a lot about how and why you experience emotion. Psychologists have a bunch of different theories about how emotions work, but there's one in particular that might help explain why we sometimes get our emotional wires crossed.

It's called the Schachter-Singer two-factor theory of emotion, and it's based on the idea that emotions are the sum of two factors: your physical reaction and a cognitive label. So you could be standing on the edge of a cliff, but if your body is totally relaxed, you might not feel scared. And on the flip side, if there's no obvious explanation for your physical arousal — what psychologists call that amped-up feeling where your heart's racing and you're more alert and energized than usual — you'll use environmental cues to figure out what you're feeling and why you're feeling it.

Which means you might sometimes pick the wrong reason. In 1962, Schachter and Singer showed their theory in action by injecting 184 students with either adrenaline or a placebo. Some of the people who got adrenaline were told how their bodies would react, while others were told some made up side effects, or nothing at all.

They then spent time doing a bunch of silly tasks or filling out a frustrating questionnaire with a trained plant — someone who was secretly an experimenter, I mean. Not, like, ficus jumping hula hoops. Those who knew that adrenaline would make them feel more amped up reported feeling less happiness or anger, and according to the researchers, that was probably because they blamed their pounding heart on the drug.

Meanwhile, the others misinterpreted the drug's effects as emotions — in other words, they misattributed them. Now, there's still a lot of debate about whether the Schachter-Singer model is accurate, partly because it's been hard to replicate their original experiment. Regardless, there is plenty of evidence that misattribution is a real thing, even if we aren't sure about the exact mechanism behind it.

And studies have shown that we can misinterpret our emotions in all kinds of ways. For example, one study found that people who would normally get really nervous before tests were less anxious when they were given a placebo they were told would make them antsy, probably because they attributed their sweaty palms to the pill. They also did better on the tests, scoring as well as people who didn't have test anxiety.

And a 1975 study of 45 male college students found that those who watched erotic films immediately after exercising rated the porn less sexually arousing, probably because they attributed some of their physical symptoms of arousal to the workout instead. One of the most well-known studies on the misattribution of arousal is the so-called “shaky bridge” study from 1974, which looked at the connection between attraction and anxiety. 85 male subjects were asked to tell a female interviewer what they thought was happening in a kind of ambiguous image of a woman holding onto a door with her face in her hand. The thing is, the interview took place on a bridge—either a wide, stable, concrete bridge or a high, shaky, suspension bridge.

Afterwards, the interviewer offered the subjects her number, you know, in case they needed to “follow up about the study.” The men on the shaky bridge saw more sexual content in the images and were more likely to call the interviewer. According to the researchers, that was probably because being on the unstable bridge produced anxiety, which the subjects interpreted as attraction. Similarly, a 2003 study found that people were more likely to find a photo of a stranger attractive after they'd been on a rollercoaster than before.

Of course, this isn't to say that if you went to a horror movie on your first date, your relationship is ALL A LIE or anything like that. And it definitely doesn't mean that you should take your date somewhere creepy just to make them more attracted to you. Do not do that.

And it's not like we're always terrible at figuring out what we're really feeling. Most of the time, we get this stuff right. If a situation is familiar or what's causing your physical reaction is super obvious, you're not going to have too hard of a time figuring it out.

It's only when you can't easily explain how you feel that you might pick the wrong emotion, and what feels like romantic butterflies in your stomach might not have anything to do with your date. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych. If you want to learn more about the weird ways our minds affect our bodies, you can go to and subscribe. [♩OUTRO ].