Handbook of Cognition and Emotion

By Tim Dalgleish; Mick J. Power | Go to book overview

Chapter 30
Appraisal Theory

Klaus R. Scherer
University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland


HISTORY AND BASIC ASSUMPTIONS

A central tenet of appraisal theory is the claim that emotions are elicited and differentiated on the basis of a person's subjective evaluation or appraisal of the personal significance of a situation, object, or event on a number of dimensions or criteria. Implicitly, this assumption is found in many of the classic philosophical treatments of emotion antecedents (e.g. in Aristotle, Spinoza, Descartes, Hume: see Lyons, this volume). Even William James, whose revolutionary emotion theory suggested that emotion differentiation is based on feedback from peripheral systems, had to acknowledge the importance of appraisal (James, 1894; see also Ellsworth, 1994a; Scherer, 1996b). Although the German psychologist Stumpf suggested a rudimentary version of appraisal theory at the beginning of the century (Reisenzein & Schonpflug, 1992), the history of this tradition begins with Magda Arnold (1960), who first used the term “appraisal” to explain the elicitation of differentiated emotions. She suggested that events are appraised with respect to three dimensions: beneficial vs. harmful, presence vs. absence of some object, and relative difficulty to approach or avoid the latter. Richard Lazarus (1966) had the most direct influence on the theoretical approach labeled “appraisal theory”. He argued that both stress and emotion are elicited by a twostage process of appraisal: primary appraisal (i.e. the positive or negative significance of an event for one's well-being), and secondary appraisal (the ability to cope with the consequences of an event). In addition, he acknowledged the dynamic nature of appraisal by specifically allowing for re-appraisals of objects or events based on new information or re-evaluation.

Following these pioneering leads, during the last 20 years a number of authors have suggested, quite independently of each other, that the nature of an emo-

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