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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Predating the MRU: Was Swain a Fan of Psychological Theory?

I love my job for the very reason that I get to do a lot of research online all in the name of "work." Lucky for me, I run a blog that makes very good use of this research. Cuts prep time down at least by a third.

At any rate, in my "studies," I came across a psychological theory that felt familiar to me. Like, MRU-familiar. It's called the James-Lange Theory of Emotion, and it's been around since 1884. William James and Carl Lange, 19th century scholars, developed this theory independently of each other.

Here it is in a nutshell:

Event ==> Arousal ==> Interpretation ==> Emotion

Look familiar? Here's the broken down version of Swain's MRU (since the second half of the MRU, Character Reaction, has four parts):

Motivating Stimulus ==> Visceral Reaction ==> Thought ==> Action ==> Speech
                                            [  -------------CHARACTER REACTION-----------------  ]

If you take away the Action and Speech elements, which aren't part of the original theory, as the theory was focused on emotion, not action, they read essentially the same. James and Lange posited that the emotion came from the interpretation of the arousal. (You can read a bit more detailed explanation, including a quote from James, here.)

For example, My dog died and I'm crying, so I must be sad. This would be instead of the dog dying, feeling sad, and then crying. You gotta makes sense! Lange actually said that the vasomotor changes (arousal) was the emotion, essentially starting over a century-long psychological chicken v. the egg debate of which comes first, the physiological arousal or the emotional feeling.

Regardless, I have to think that Swain must have heard of these two fellas and tweaked their work to make it writing related, since writers definitely have to configure actions and speech into literary works.

Lends credence to Ecclesiastes 1:9 - "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

Q4U: What do you think? Did Swain lift a few principles from ol' James and Lange?