Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 844-846

James-Lange Theory of Emotion

  • Ashley E. ColemanAffiliated withEmory University
  • , John SnareyAffiliated withEmory University


First proposed by American psychologist James [5] and independently developed by Danish psychologist Lange [8], the James-Lange theory of emotion states that the immediate, primary cause of an emotion is physical. Bodily changes and physiological processes, which occur as a result of environmental stimuli, evoke certain feelings in the conscious mind. In this sense, emotions are bodily sensations or processes variously combined.


The James-Lange theory can be illustrated by the following anecdotes. A child sees her father walk into the room carrying her toys. She begins to grin, her heart beats a little faster, her pupils dilate, and she runs toward him. These bodily changes represent the emotion of excitement. In a different instance, a man walking down a deserted street at midnight hears footsteps behind him. He looks back and sees a large figure approaching. The man converts his walk into a run, he breathes more rapidly, his nostrils flare, hi ...

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