There are many emotion theories. This is a summary of the most important:
•Charles Darwin: emotions evolved because they are adaptive; allow humans and animals to survive and reproduce.
•James-Lange: physiological reactions to events. The emotional reaction is dependent upon the interpretation of physical reactions to stimuli.
•Cannon-Bard: physical and psychological experience of emotion happen at the same time.
•Schachter-Singer: A stimulus leads to a physiological response that is then cognitively interpreted and labeled which results in an emotion.
•Cognitive Appraisal Theory: a stimulus, followed by thought leads to the simultaneous experience of a physiological response and the emotion.
•Facial-Feedback Theory: emotions are directly tied to changes in facial muscles.
•Zajonc and Joseph LeDoux: some emotions occur separately from or prior to our cognitive interpretation. Demonstrated the amygdala’s primary role in fear. Included “gut feeling”
What’s common to all is that emotions involve complex layers of processes that are in close interaction with the environment like cognitive processes (appraisal of meaning) and physical changes (endocrine, autonomic, etc).
During the last century, the two most widely accepted theories in affect studies are basic emotion theory and dimensional theory.
Basic emotion theory proposes that human beings have a limited number of emotions (fear, anger, joy, sadness) that are biologically and psychologically “basic,” each manifested in an organized recurring pattern of associated behavioral components.
Dimensional models of emotion suggest that a common and interconnected neurophysiological system is responsible for all affective states. These models contrast theories of basic emotion, which propose that different emotions arise from separate neural systems.
So, the theory that states that emotion is pre-cognitive is the one that Zajonc and LeDoux postulated. Zajonc asserted that some emotions occur separately from or prior to our cognitive interpretation of them, such as feeling fear in response to an unexpected loud sound (Zajonc, 1998). He also believed in what we might casually refer to as a gut feeling—that we can experience an instantaneous and unexplainable like or dislike for someone or something.
LeDoux also views some emotions as requiring no cognition: some emotions completely bypass contextual interpretation. His research into the neuroscience of emotion has demonstrated the amygdala’s primary role in fear. A fear stimulus is processed by the brain through one of two paths: from the thalamus (where it is perceived) directly to the amygdala or from the thalamus through the cortex and then to the amygdala. The first path is quick, while the second enables more processing about details of the stimulus.