The Paradigm of the Transfer of Excitation

The Paradigm of the Transfer of Excitation

Carlos is playing a video game surrounded by friends. When he is in the final phase, he makes a mistake and loses the game feeling great frustration. One of his friends makes an innocent joke about it and Carlos gets angry and leaves the room slamming the door. Although the joke had not provoked a similar response on another occasion, Carlos has transferred his excitement by carrying out a disproportionate response. This is what happens in many of our everyday behaviors that may seem irrational and that are explained through paradigm of the transfer of excitation.


  • 1 The development of Zillmann's research
  • 2 What is the excitation transfer paradigm?
  • 3 Zillmann tests his paradigm through different investigations
  • 4 Applications of the excitation transfer paradigm

The development of Zillmann's research

In the late 1960s, the psychologist Dolf Zillmann of the University of Alabama proposed the paradigm of excitation transfer, a theory he continued to develop over the next decades. This psychologist, a student of emotional reactions, was based on the theory of Clarck Hull boost reduction and in the theory of the two emotion factors of Stanley Schachter.

The first proposes that our biological impulses or needs They are the basis and motivation of our behaviors, regardless of external stimulation.

On the other hand, the theory of the two factors of emotion states that emotions occur so much by physiological arousal or arousal, as per the cognitive evaluation of an event, that is to say: people feel a physical activation and evaluate this excitement according to the events that are happening to them, labeling the emotion according to these two observations.

Based on these theories and modifying them through his research, Zillmann tries to explain how arousal is transferred from one situation to another.

What is the excitation transfer paradigm?

This theory proposes that the excitement that a given event causes us, I know transfers to the responses we issue to other events later with the same intensity. That is, according to Zillmann, we transfer the excitement we feel for recent events to other events, although the latter may not have caused such excitement. Although we summarize it in a simple way, this is a broad theory that explains behaviors that go unnoticed constantly in everyday life.

In the words of Zillmann: "The residual excitation that leaves virtually any emotional reaction is capable of intensifying any other subsequent emotional reaction. The degree of intensification depends, of course, on the magnitude of the residues that prevail at the moment." The residual arousal , or general physiological and psychological activation of the organism, is transmitted from one context to another causing responses, sometimes disproportionate.

This intensity in the excitation can connect different emotions. This means that an excitement that underlies an emotion of fear, for example, can lead to a similar excitement in which there is an emotion of subsequent relief.

Zillmann tests his paradigm through different investigations

One of these investigations was carried out in 1971 and was based on showing films of different content to several participants. The films could be erotic, violent or neutral. Prior to this, an accomplice bothered the participant. After viewing the movies, participants could administer downloads of varying intensity to the person who had bothered them. As Zillmann expected, participants who had visualized violent content carried out more intense downloads than those who had visualized neutral content and those who had received erotic content, much more than the previous ones.

Conditions for the excitation transfer process

For the excitation transfer process to be fulfilled, three specific conditions must be met:

  • The second event towards which we show excitation must occur when the excitation due to the first stimulus has not yet dissipated.
  • There must be an erroneous attribution of this excitement to the second event, that is, the person believes that his excitement is due to this new event without linking it to the first.
  • Before the second stimulus occurs, the person has not reached the threshold of total excitation.

Applications of the excitation transfer paradigm

This theory has been applied in different fields such as psychology or psychophysiology, but it has certainly had a great effect in the area of ‚Äč‚Äčcommunication. In the 70s, just when the paradigm began to develop, there was a great concern for the high violent content that the audiovisual media spread. The excitation transfer paradigm was used to explain the behaviors of people whose reactions were influenced by these contents., although initially this influence was denied due to the fiction of the arguments issued. The paradigm, for the first time, affirmed that any stimulus, whether fictitious or real, can cause a transfer of excitement. This has been used in many investigations especially focused on studying aggressions that have been influenced by the media and propaganda.

Links of interest

Excitation-Transfer Theory. //

Excitation-Transfer Theory. //

Excitation transfer in communication-mediated aggressive behavior. Dolf Zillmann 1971. //