Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Cognitive Appraisal, Negative Affectivity and Psychological Well-Being

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Cognitive Appraisal, Negative Affectivity and Psychological Well-Being

Article excerpt

Current research indicates that the way in which an individual appraises a situation may be more important to psychological well-being than the actual presence of stress. Cognitive appraisal is central to the stress and coping processes, for it determines how an event is perceived and therefore operates as an essential mediator between the event and the outcome. The present study examines this relationship within a transactional theory of occupational stress. According to the transactional perspective, the appraisal of an event should be predictive of psychological well-being. However, given the role negative affectivity has been demonstrated to play in the perception of events, researchers have shifted attention to include this variable in examinations of cognitive appraisal. In the current study the relationships between negative affectivity, appraisal and psychological well-being were tested within a mediation framework. It was expected that negative affectivity would have both direct and indirect effects on psychological well-being and the indirect relationship would be mediated by cognitive appraisal. These hypotheses were supported.


According to cognitive-relational theory, for an event to be stressful or threatening, it must first be perceived as such (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). It is hypothesised that a number of perceptual processes mediate between the environment and the individual in order to determine implications for psychological well-being (Smith & Lazarus, 1993). These processes appraise the significance and relevance of the event based on a person's subjective evaluation of that event. Richard Lazarus, one of the key proponents of the cognitive-relational theory, argues that it is not the environment or the individual alone that create stress but the interaction between the two:

   "Stress is not a property of the person, or of the environment, but arises 
   when there is a conjunction between a particular kind of environment and a 
   particular kind of person that leads to a threat appraisal" (Lazarus, 1991, 

Within a transactional model of stress, Lazarus and colleagues have described two types of appraisal (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). The First, "primary appraisal", determines the significance of an event to psychological well-being. Three types of primary appraisal have been described: an irrelevant encounter, which is of little significance; a benign-positive encounter, which has positive or beneficial consequences and a stressful encounter. The appraisal of the stressful encounter is further depicted by three types, namely: appraisals of harm/loss, threat or challenge. Challenge appraisals do not have the same negative implications that harm/loss or threat appraisals have and can be positive or exciting for the individual. The second type of cognitive appraisal, "secondary appraisal", occurs when an event is appraised as stressful and involves an evaluation of what can be done in a situation, including an assessment of the availability of resources and coping options.

The transactional theory tends towards a situational specific approach to stressful situations and consequently places little emphasis on broader dispositional variables which may affect the way in which an individual appraises their experiences (Lazarus, 1991). However, researchers have increasingly argued for the inclusion of such dispositional variables, as mounting evidence points to their influence in the stress and appraisal process (Smith & Rhodewalt, 1986; Hemenover & Dienstbier, 1996). The dispositional variable of negative affectivity, in particular, has recently received considerable attention as a potential confound variable in the stressor-strain relationship.

Negative affectivity (NA) has been defined as reflecting individual differences in negative emotion and self concept (Watson & Clark, 1984). …

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