Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Appraisal and emotion
What is the role of cognitive appraisal in emotional experience?
According to cognitive appraisal theories, emotions arise from an individual’s interpretation and explanation for a given situation (Imada & Ellsworth, 2011), meaning the appraisal or interpretation of the situation is an important antecedent of emotion (Smith, Haynes, Lazarus & Pope 1993). This chapter explains the role of appraisal in emotional experience by discussing the cognitive theory of appraisal from two prominent researchers, Magda Arnold and Richard Lazarus.While additionally exploring the dimensions of appraisal and there accuracy, to give readers an in-depth understanding of how cognitive appraisal affects our emotions. Concluding how cognitive reappraisal and suppression can be used as effective emotion-regulation strategies to maintain optimal emotional, cognitive and social functioning.
What is appraisal? Well, imagine winning an Olympic bronze medal. How happy do you think you would be? Would you be happy that you made it onto the podium or would you be slightly disappointed because you didn’t win a different medal? It is likely to assume you would be happy rather than disappointed, but now imagine if you won an Olympic silver medal instead. Do you think you would be more or less happier than if you won the bronze medal?
The cognitive theory of appraisal suggests that situations and outcomes do not cause emotions in the same way that a person’s appraisals or interpretations of those situations and outcomes do (Imada &Ellsworth, 2011). To support this idea, the finding that Olympic bronze medallists experience more post-competition happiness than do Olympic silver medallists, is based on the assumption that the athlete’s appraisal of what might have been is more important (Medvec, Madey & Gilovich, 1995). For example, silver medallists may wonder ‘I could have won gold’, compared to bronze medallists who might think ‘I could have come up empty’.
Hence, emotions are said to follow appraisals and are the result of an individual’s interpretation and explanation for a given situation (Nezlek, Vansteelandt, Van Mechelen, & Kuppens, 2008). However, given that individuals can interpret experiences differently, it means that individuals are also able to experience different emotions to the same situation (Imada & Ellsworth, 2011). Therefore, it is not the situation per se, but the appraisal of an experience which also determines the type and intensity of the emotional response (Seimer, Gross & Mauss, 2007). Due to this, several researchers have concluded that there are a number of appraisal dimensions responsible for determining which emotion will be presented. These theories include those described by Magda Arnold (1960), Richard Lazarus (1991) and many more. All of which,who have defined two or more dimensions of appraisal and are outlined further in this chapter. Yet, before this can be explained, it is important to first consider emotions more closely.
An emotion is defined as a conscious mental reaction, experienced as a strong feeling towards a specific situation or outcome which is accompanied by physiological and behavioural changes (Sieb, 2013). Basic emotions are said to include interest, joy/happiness, sadness, anger, disgust and fear (Izard, 2007), with emotions found to consist of three components varying in intensity and prominence (Sieb, 2013). The three components include a physiological component, a behavioural component and an experiential component. All of which consist of various physiological, behavioural and subjective, feeling and conscious reactions respectively (Sieb, 2013). For example, happiness may consist of psychological reactions such as the slowing of the heart rate and respiration, behavioural reactions such as receptive open approach behaviour and an experiential reaction such as a subjective conscious experience of happiness (Sieb, 2013).
In view of this, there are two perspectives which aim to explain why we experience these emotions; they are the cognitive and behavioural perspectives (Reeve, 2009). The behavioural perspective suggests that emotions occur due to biological processes. However, the cognitive perspective argues that this is not the only necessary process in emotional experience (Reeve, 2009). Emotions are also said to arise from a cognitive stand point that includes information processing and social interaction, with three types of cognition distinguished, knowledge, appraisal and attribution (Reeve, 2009). Of these, appraisal is the central construct of this perspective, explaining how emotions are activated not by biological processes but by an individual’s appraisal of a situation or outcome (Nezlek et al, 2008).
Theories of appraisal
Formany years the theory of appraisal has developed and evolved. However, thanks to the dedication of two of the most prominent researchers in cognitive theory, Magda Arnold and Richard Lazarus, the theory of appraisal has expanded exponentially. Hence, their appraisal theories will be focused on in order to understand the role of cognitive appraisal in an individuals’ emotional experience.
Magda Arnold was one of the earliest pioneers in the cognitive approach to the study of emotion, with her definitions of appraisal and emotion still employed by many researchers today (Cornelius, 2006). In particular, the definition of emotion she described explained emotion as the felt tendency towards anything appraised as good, or away from anything appraised as bad. With the attraction or aversion accompanied by a pattern of physiological changes towards approach or withdrawal, which differ for different emotions (Arnold, 1960) . From her definition, her theory of emotion is summarized through a sequence of events, the first step being the perception of a situation which leads to an appraisal, followed by the felt emotion and then the appropriate action (Arnold, 1960). This sequence is discussed further and presented in Figure 2.
Perception to appraisal
According to Arnold (1960), before we can appraise a given situation, an individual must first perceive what is going on around them. Perception, just like emotion, has an object of arousal (Arnold, 1960). However, it requires the integration of sense impressions so that we can not only perceive the objects shape and colour but also its tone and touch. For example, we can hear the sound of a bell, feel that it is hard and smooth and see that it is gold and shining (Arnold 1960). Once we have perceived the object or situation we can then estimate how it affects us personally. This is the appraisal, which has two dimensions and is the process by which we estimate whether an object is either, good or bad (Arnold, 1960).
Appraisal to emotion
Once a situation or object is appraised as either good or bad, an individual experiences either a liking or disliking for it. This liking or disliking for the object or situation is the felt emotional experience and is usually direct and immediate (Arnold 1960).
Emotion to action
After the individual feels a liking or disliking, a motivational action tendency is expressed (Arnold, 1960). For example, when an individual likes something and sees it as worth having, they feel a motivational attraction towards it. However, as soon as they judge something as threatening and dislike it, they feel a motivational tendency that repels them from it (Arnold 1960). This is often conveyed through various bodily changes, which may eventually lead to overt actions (Arnold 1960).
Motivation and Emotion
From Arnolds (1960) ground breaking theory, our knowledge of appraisal in emotional experience has come a long way. However, it is important to recognize that Arnold (1960) also acknowledged that emotion and motivation are closely interrelated, with motivation determining an individual’s further actions in the appraisal process (Cornelius, 2006). This importance of motivation and emotion in appraisal has paved the way for many other researchers such as Richard Lazarus.
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Following Arnold's lead in appraisal theories, Richard Lazarus (1991) expanded on her ideas to develop a more complex understanding of appraisal, assuming that an individual’s cognitive appraisal of an event leads to subsequent stress and emotional experience. Lazarus's (1991) model proposed that there were two kinds of appraisal; primary appraisal and secondary appraisal (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987). Both of which identified six appraisal components: two of primary and four of secondary appraisal . These components then combined in various ways to define core relational themes which produce emotions (Smith et al, 1993). This theory is described by Lazarus (1991) as a motivational one and is outlined further.
According to Lazarus (1991), primary appraisal is concerned with whether a situation may be relevant to a person's well-being. Ultimately, it estimates whether an individual has a stake in a given situation or encounter (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987). This model is a motivational one as it brings the individual's personal goals into the situation. For example, if there is no stake in the situation it is considered to be irrelevant and no emotional reaction will occur (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987). However, if there is a stake in the situation and it is relevant to the person’s goals, the quality and intensity of the emotion will vary with how much is actually at stake (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987). Hence, there are two components of primary appraisal; motivational relevance and motivational congruence (Smith et al, 1993). These are defined in Table 1.
Components of Primary Appraisal
|Motivational relevance||Is the evaluation of the situation and whether it touches on an individual’s personal goals and concerns i.e. its importance.|
|Motivational congruence||Is the extent in which the situation is consistent or inconsistent with the person's goals i.e. its desirability|
In addition to the stakes one has in a situation (primary appraisal), secondary appraisal is concerned with the options the person has for coping with that situation (Smith et al, 1993). This refers to how an evaluative judgement is required to determine whether actions can be taken to improve the situation and if so, which coping options may work (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987). The components of secondary appraisal include accountability, problem-focused coping, emotional-focused coping potential and future expectancy (Smith et al., 1993). These are outlined in Table 2.
Components of Secondary Appraisal
|Accountability||Refers to who or what is to be blamed or credited for the situation.|
|Problem-focused coping||Is one’s ability to act directly on the situation to keep it in accordance with one's desires.|
|Emotion-focused coping potential||Is the prospects of adjusting psychologically to the situation by altering one's interpretations or desires from the situation.|
|Future competency||The possibility that changes can occur in the actual or psychological situation which would change the situations desirability.|
Core relational themes
The appraisal components of primary and secondary appraisal thus combine to determine core relational themes. These core relations themes produce different emotions or emotional experiences and represent a particular harm or benefit to the individual (Smith et al, 1993). Some of the core relational themes identified include other-blame, self-blame, danger/threat, and irrevocable loss/helplessness. These are found to be associated with emotions such as anger, guilt, fear, and sadness respectively, while emotions such as joy and love are related to core relational themes such as goal achievement and positive interpersonal encounters (Nezlek et al, 2008).
Dimensions of appraisal
Since the work of Arnold (1960) and Lazarus (1991), researchers have developed an improved understanding of appraisal. However, researchers have argued that to explain the full complexity of our emotional experiences, it is important to distinguish how many dimensions of appraisal there are (Reeve, 2009). Dimensions of appraisal start with Arnold's (1960) good/bad appraisals and Lazarus's (1991) primary and secondary appraisal dimensions. Yet, researchers differ on how many of these dimensions of appraisal are actually necessary in explaining an emotional experience accurately. For example, Arnold (1960) only explained two emotions; like and dislike, while Lazarus explained approximately 15 emotions in his appraisal model (as cited in Reeve, 2009, p.350). Nevertheless, researchers ultimately seek to explain all emotions and have therefore added to such theory in order to compile a more comprehensive list of appraisal dimensions, so that we might be able to explain many more of the different emotions we experience accurately. Researchers include Scherer (1997), Roseman (1984) and Smith and Ellsworth (1985) whose additional appraisal dimensions are described below.
Scherer (1984) proposed five dimensions which were termed stimulus evaluation checks (as cited in Mauro, Sato & Tucker, 1992, p.302). They included novelty, intrinsic pleasantness, goal/need conduciveness, coping potential, and norm/self-compatibility,these are explained in Table 3, with all the dimensions found to interact in different ways to elicit an emotion (as cited in Mauro et al, 1992, p.302).
Scherer's (1984) appraisal dimensions
|Novelty||The appraisal that something has changed in the environment.|
|Intrinsic pleasantness||The quality of pleasure found in the situation or event.|
|Goal/need conduciveness||The degree in which the event is beneficial to a current relevant goal or need.|
|Coping potential||The evaluation of whether the individual can cope or not with the given situation|
|Norm/self compatibility||The evaluation of whether an individuals thoughts, feelings, and actions are appropriate according to either a private or public standard|
Roseman’s (1984) model also proposed that there were five dimensions of appraisal (as cited in Mauro et al., 1992, p.302). However, these only reflected between 13 to 16 basic emotions (as cited in Mauro et al., 1992, p.302; Roseman, Spindel & Jose, 1990). In the first model Roseman (1984) developed her dimensions included motivational state, situational state, certainty, causal agent and legitimacy (as cited in Mauro et al., 1992, p.302). Since then, her model has been revised and now includes appraisals found more consistently across researchers. Therefore, instead of dimensions such as certainty, causal agent and legitimacy it now includes probability, agency and power (Roseman et al., 1990). These are explained in the table below.
Roseman's (1984) appraisal dimensions
|Situational state||Assesses whether a situation is consistent or inconsistent with a individuals motives.|
|Probability||Relates to certain or uncertain outcomes e.g. uncertain outcomes lead to hope or fear and certain outcomes lead to emotions such as joy and sadness|
|Agency||Relates to the circumstances of the situation e.g. circumstances beyond the individuals control leads to emotions such as sadness. Circumstances caused by others leads to emotions such as anger and circumstances caused by one's self leads to emotions such as guilt|
|Motivational state||Is whether an outcome is desired e.g. a motive to obtain elicits joy but a motive to avoid punishment elicits relief|
|Power||Is in the context of other appraisals and reflects perceiving oneself e.g. perceiving oneself as weak rather then strong leads to sadness|
Smith and Ellsworth
Finally, Smith and Ellsworth (1985) proposed there were eight dimensions of appraisal relevant to an individuals’ emotional experience. These included pleasantness, anticipated effort, attentional activity, control, certainty, goal/path obstacle, legitimacy and responsibility (as cited in Mauro etal., 1992, p.302). Of these, the dimensions of pleasantness and goal/path obstacle correspond to Scherer's (1984) intrinsic pleasantness and goal/need conduciveness (as cited in Mauro et al., 1992, p.302), while dimensions such as certainty, control and legitimacy correspond closely to Roseman's (1984) dimensions of probability, agency and power (Roseman et al., 1990). The additional dimensions include anticipated effort, attentional activity, and responsibility, which are outlined in the table below (as cited in Mauro et al., 1992, p.302).
Smith & Ellsworth (1985) appraisal dimensions
|Anticipated effort||The individuals appraisal of whether effort will or will not need to be exerted in the situation.|
|Attentional activity||The tendency to attend or divert attention from the situation.|
|Responsibility||Differs from control/agency in that individuals may feel they are responsible for a situation, but perceive that they are are unable to control it.|
The accuracy of appraisal dimensions
It is difficult to say how many dimensions of appraisal actually exist and which are the most fundamental in explaining an individual’s emotional experience. Of these, Smith and Ellsworth’s (1985) model with eight dimensions is noted as the most comprehensive, with some version of the dimensions proposed by both Scherer (1981) and Roseman (1984) included (as cited in Mauro, Sato & Tucker, 1992, p.302). The table below includes all of these dimensions and how they interrelate among the different models.
Dimensions of Appraisal
Proposed Dimensions of Cognitive Appraisal
Overall, researchers have agreed nevertheless that by knowing an individuals’ particular configuration of these appraisal dimensions, there is a 65-70% accuracy rate in predicting which emotion will be experienced (Reisenzein & Hoffman, 1993; as cited in Reeve, 2009, p.352). This is the strong suit of this particular theory, as it allows for emotion differentiation, which explains how individuals can experience different emotions to the same situation through their dimension configuration (Reeve, 2009). However, there are five reasons we should also acknowledge as to why appraisal theories cannot explain emotional experience with 100% accuracy (Reeve, 2009). These include:
- Appraisals may intensify the emotion rather than cause it.
- There are developmental differences in appraisal
- Due to an emotion having a unique pattern of appraisals associated with it, it creates confusion.
- Appraisals are not the only processes that contribute to emotion e.g. biological processes
- Cognitive appraisal is not the only cognitive factor that affects an individuals’ emotional experience, knowledge and attribution are additional cognitive factors to consider.
In addition to the process of appraisal which elicits an emotion, individuals thus learn to cope and regulate their emotions as well, with many emotions we experience occurring during social interactions. These interactions are helpful in promoting social bonding and the understanding of others (Manera, Samson, Pehrs, Lee & Gross, 2014). At such times, individuals may wish to up-regulate or down-regulate their emotions to achieve optimal emotional, cognitive and social functioning (Manera et al, 2014). Hence, individuals may try to feel sadder to better understand a friend or feel more joy when they accomplish something. Emotion-regulation strategies include cognitive reappraisal and cognitive suppression (Manera et al 2014; Yap & Tong, 2009).
Cognitive reappraisal is one of the most powerful ways to regulate emotion and involves reinterpreting a given situation so that the individual feels differently about it (Manera et al, 2014). Reappraisal has been found to decrease the threatening and harmful aspects of appraisal (Park & Folkman, 1997), leading to less negative emotions and more positive emotions, with less activation in the emotion-generative brain regions (Manera et al, 2014). Also enhancing memory and having no detectable adverse consequences on social affiliation (Manera et al, 2014).
Cognitive reappraisal can work through a number of cognitive coping strategies (Park & Folkman, 1997). These include compensatory self-enhancement, downward comparisons and the development of a different perspective on the situation (Park & Folkman, 1997). These are defined in the table below.
Cognitive Reappraisal Strategies
|Compensatory self-enhancement||Individuals compensate for threat and damage in one domain by exaggerating their capabilities in another unrelated domain. This can minimize the adverse implications of a negative experience.||A cancer patient may concede that their health is not what it once was but believe that their psychological character is stronger due to their experience.|
|Downward comparisons||Involves an individual judging themselves as well off in comparison to others. These comparisons are made on dimensions that enhance the individuals situation and can be made against someone who is actually worse off or a hypothetical situation or person.||A cancer patient can report feeling that things could have been worse off then in comparison to another cancer patient|
|Different perspectives||Developing a different perspective on the situation by attempting to get a longer term picture.||A individual might tell themselves 'in 5 years time, I won't remember this'.|
Another cognitive strategy in emotion-regulation is suppression. This is where an individual suppresses an appraisal so that it does not give rise to an unwanted emotion (Yap & Tong, 2009). For instance, when one is angry at a loved one but does not wish to feel that way, they might eliminate or town down how angry they are by avoiding the appraisal. However, from this strategy, researchers have found that from trying to suppress an appraisal a stronger activation of the appraisal may occur. This is referred to as the appraisal rebound effect and can play a role in the persistence of psychopathological symptoms (Yap & Tong, 2009). For example, depressive patients may try to remove negative thoughts from their mind but fail to do so and observe their depressive symptoms appearing on the same scale or even greater than before (Yap & Tong, 2009). Hence, while cognitive suppression maybe used as an emotion-regulation strategy for some, it may not be as beneficial as cognitive reappraisal.
This chapter had provided insight into understanding the role of cognitive appraisal in our emotional experiences. Defining what appraisals and emotions are, while looking at the differing theories of appraisal and the accuracy of its numerous dimensions. Concluding how cognitive reappraisal and suppression can be used as effective emotion-regulation strategies in order to cope with stressful situations and there undesired appraisals, maintaining emotional, cognitive and social functioning .
- Cognitive Theories of Emotion (2010 Textbook)
- Attributions and Emotion (2013 Book Chapter)
- Handling Stress (2011 Book Chapter)
- Thought suppression
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