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Cognitive appraisal

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Cognitive appraisal (also called simply 'appraisal') is the subjective interpretation made by an individual to stimuli in the environment. It is a component in a variety of theories relating to stress, mental health, coping, and emotion. It is most notably used in the transactional model of stress and coping, introduced in a 1984 publication by Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman. In this theory, cognitive appraisal is defined as the way in which an individual responds to and interprets stressors in life. A variety of mental disorders have been observed as having abnormal patterns of cognitive appraisal in those affected by the disorder. Other work has detailed how personality can influence the way in which individuals cognitively appraise a situation.

The reframing of stimuli and experiences, called cognitive reappraisal, has been found "one of the most effective strategies for emotion regulation."[1]

Conceptualizations and theories[edit]

Visual representation of Lazarus' transactional model of stress.

Lazarus' transactional model of stress[edit]

This model uses cognitive appraisal as a way to explain responses to stressful events.[2]

According to this theory, two distinct forms of cognitive appraisal must occur in order for an individual to feel stress in response to an event; Lazarus called these stages "primary appraisal" and "secondary appraisal".[2] During primary appraisal, an event is interpreted as dangerous to the individual or threatening to their personal goals. During the secondary appraisal, the individual evaluates their ability or resources to be able to cope with a specific situation .[2]

Scherer's component process model[edit]

The component process model proposed by Klaus Scherer utilizes cognitive appraisal to explain an individual's psychological and physiological response to situations. Scherer's model makes additions to the Lazarus’ transactional model regarding how many appraisals occur. Rather than just two levels of appraisal in response to an event (primary and secondary), Scherer's model suggests four distinct appraisals occur: (a) the direct effects or relevance that an individual perceives an event being to them (b) the consequences an event has both immediately and long-term to an individual and their goals (c) the ability an individual perceives they can cope with the consequences of an event (d) the ways in which the events are perceived to result from an individual's values and self-concept.[3] This model and additional work by Scherer notably highlights not only psychological responses, but many physiological responses according to how events are appraised by an individual.[3]

Roseman's appraisal theory of emotions[edit]

Ira Roseman utilized the concept of cognitive appraisal to build an explanatory theory that encompasses a wider range of emotions (when compared with Lazarus' transactional model). According to Roseman (1996), positive emotions result from events that an individual appraises as consistent with their motives, while negative emotions result from events that individuals appraise as inconsistent with their motives. More specific emotions are based on if the event is perceived to be as caused by others, the individual, or due to an uncontrollable circumstance.[4]


Cognitive reappraisal is one of the most studied mechanisms of the emotion regulation form referred to as cognitive change.[5] It encompasses a variety of different strategies, such as positive reappraisal (creating and focusing on a positive aspect of the stimulus),[6] decentering (reinterpreting an event by broadening one's perspective to see "the bigger picture"),[7] or fictional reappraisal (adopting or emphasizing the belief that event is not real, that it is for instance "just a movie" or "just my imagination").[8]

Practical applications[edit]

The way in which stress is cognitively appraised has been found to influence mental health.[9] Cognitive styles of perceiving the world and interpreting events have been suggested as factors that may make certain individuals more prone to depression, such as Aaron Beck's cognitive theory (1967). A variety of studies have linked panic disorder with attentional biases and catastrophization.[10]


  1. ^ Webb, Thomas; Miles, Eleanor; Sheeran, Paschal (2012). "Dealing with feeling: A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of strategies derived from the process model of emotion regulation". Psychological Bulletin. 138 (4): 775–808. doi:10.1037/a0027600. PMID 22582737. S2CID 207667973.
  2. ^ a b c S., Lazarus, Richard (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Folkman, Susan. New York: Springer Pub. Co. ISBN 0826141900. OCLC 10754235.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b Scherer, Klaus R. (November 2009). "The dynamic architecture of emotion: Evidence for the component process model". Cognition & Emotion. 23 (7): 1307–1351. doi:10.1080/02699930902928969. ISSN 0269-9931. S2CID 145750370.
  4. ^ Roseman, Ira J. (May 1996). "Appraisal Determinants of Emotions: Constructing a More Accurate and Comprehensive Theory". Cognition & Emotion. 10 (3): 241–278. doi:10.1080/026999396380240. ISSN 0269-9931.
  5. ^ Buhle, J. T.; Silvers, J. A.; Wager, T. D.; Lopez, R.; Onyemekwu, C.; Kober, H.; Weber, J.; Ochsner, K. N. (1 November 2014). "Cognitive Reappraisal of Emotion: A Meta-Analysis of Human Neuroimaging Studies". Cerebral Cortex. 24 (11): 2981–2990. doi:10.1093/cercor/bht154. PMC 4193464. PMID 23765157.
  6. ^ Moster, J. S.; Hartwig, R.; Moran, T. P.; Jendrusina, A. A.; Kross, E. (2014). "Neural markers of positive reappraisal and their associations with trait reappraisal and worry". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 123 (1): 91–105. doi:10.1037/a0035817. PMID 24661162.
  7. ^ Schartau, P. E.; Dalgleish, T.; Dunn, B. D. (2009). "Seeing the bigger picture: training in perspective broadening reduces self-reported affect and psychophysiological response to distressing films and autobiographical memories". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 118 (1): 15–27. doi:10.1037/a0012906. PMID 19222310. S2CID 33850126.
  8. ^ Makowski, D.; Sperduti, M.; Pelletier, J.; Blondé, P.; La Corte, V.; Arcangeli, M.; Zalla, T.; Lemaire, S.; Dokic, J.; Nicolas, S.; Piolino, P. (January 2019). "Phenomenal, bodily and brain correlates of fictional reappraisal as an implicit emotion regulation strategy". Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. 19 (4): 877–897. doi:10.3758/s13415-018-00681-0. PMID 30610654. S2CID 58591122.
  9. ^ Gomes, A. Rui; Faria, Susana; Lopes, Heitor (2016-07-09). "Stress and Psychological Health". Western Journal of Nursing Research. 38 (11): 1448–1468. doi:10.1177/0193945916654666. hdl:1822/42886. ISSN 0193-9459. PMID 27330045. S2CID 21304315.
  10. ^ Psychopathology : history, diagnosis, and empirical foundations. Craighead, W. Edward., Miklowitz, David Jay, 1957-, Craighead, Linda W. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons. 2008. ISBN 9780471768616. OCLC 181903762.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)