Figure 181

Liking ratings for Chinese ideographs following the presentation of a happy or angry priming stimulus for 4 msec or 1 second. Based on data in Murphy and Zajonc (1993).

Lazarus's position

Lazarus (1982) argued that cognitive appraisal plays a crucial role in emotional experience. Cognitive appraisal can be subdivided into three more specific forms of appraisal:

• Primary appraisal: an environmental situation is regarded as being positive, stressful, or irrelevant to well-being.

• Secondary appraisal: account is taken of the resources that the individual has available to cope with the situation.

• Re-appraisal: the stimulus situation and the coping strategies are monitored, with the primary and secondary appraisals being modified if necessary.

The importance of cognitive appraisal in determining emotional experience has been shown in several studies by Lazarus and his associates (e.g., Speisman, Lazarus, Mordkoff, & Davison, 1964). One approach involves presenting an anxiety-evoking film under various conditions. One film showed a Stone Age ritual in which adolescent boys had their penises deeply cut, and another film showed various workshop accidents. The most dramatic of these accidents involves a board caught in a circular saw which rams with tremendous force through the midsection of a worker, who dies writhing on the floor. Cognitive appraisal was manipulated by varying the accompanying sound-track, and then comparing the stress experienced against a control condition without a soundtrack. Denial was produced by indicating that the incision film did not show a painful operation, or that those involved in the workshop film were actors. Intellectualisation was produced in the incision film by considering matters from the perspective of an anthropologist viewing strange native customs, and was produced in the workshop film by telling the viewer to consider the situation in an objective way. Various psychophysiological measures of arousal or stress (e.g., heart rate; galvanic skin response) were taken continuously during the viewing of the film.

The major finding of Lazarus's studies was that denial and intellectualisation both produced substantial reductions in stress as indexed by the psychophysiological measures. Thus, manipulating an individual's cognitive appraisal when confronted by a stressful event can have a significant impact on physiological

stress reactions. However, it has not always proved easy to replicate these findings (e.g., Steptoe & Vogele, 1986).

Smith and Lazarus (1993) adopted a rather different approach. They argued that there are six appraisal components, two of which involve primary appraisal and four of which involve secondary appraisal:

• Primary: motivational relevance (related to personal commitments?).

• Primary: motivational congruence (consistent with the individual's goals?).

• Secondary: accountability (who deserves the credit or blame?).

• Secondary: problem-focused coping potential (can the situation be resolved?).

• Secondary: emotion-focused coping potential (can the situation be handled psychologically?).

• Secondary: future expectancy (how likely is it that the situation will change?).

Smith and Lazarus (1993) argued that different emotional states can be distinguished on the basis of which appraisal components are involved. Thus, for example, anger, guilt, anxiety, and sadness all possess the primary appraisal components of motivational relevance and motivational incongruence (these emotions only occur when goals are blocked), but differ in terms of secondary appraisal components. Guilt involves self-accountability, anxiety involves low or uncertain emotion-focused coping potential, and sadness involves low future expectancy for change.

Smith and Lazarus (1993) used scenarios in which the participants were told to identify with the central character. In one scenario, the central character has performed poorly in an important course, and he appraises the situation. Other-accountability was produced by having him put the blame on the unhelpful teaching assistants; self-accountability was produced by having him argue that he made a lot of mistakes (e.g., doing work at the last minute); low emotion-focused coping potential was produced by thinking that there was a great danger that he would finish with a poor academic record; and low future expectancy for change was produced by having him think that it was impossible to succeed with his chosen academic path. The appraisal manipulations generally had the predicted effects on the emotional states reported by the participants, indicating that there are close links between appraisal on the one hand and experienced emotion on the other hand.

Lazarus (e.g., 1982) has argued consistently that cognitive appraisal always precedes any affective reaction, but that such appraisal may not be at the conscious level. However, the notion that preconscious cognitive processes determine affective reactions is often no more than an article of faith. However, the literature on subliminal perception suggests that there are important pre-conscious cognitive processes.


Appraisal processes are important in determining our emotional reactions to stimuli. However, the notion of appraisal is rather broad and vague, and so it can be hard to assess an individual's appraisals. For example, Lazarus (1991, p. 169) referred to "two kinds of appraisal processes— one that operates automatically without awareness or volitional control, and another that is conscious, deliberate, and volitional."

Parkinson and Manstead (1992) argued that there are several problems of interpretation with studies such as the one by Speisman et al. (1964). In essence, the soundtrack manipulations may not have had a direct impact on the appraisal process. Changing the soundtrack changed the stimulus information presented to the participants, and different soundtracks may have influenced the direction of attention rather than the interpretive process itself. More generally, Parkinson and Manstead (1992, p. 146) argued that Lazarus's approach represents a rather limited view of emotion: "Appraisal theory has taken the paradigm [model] of emotional experience as an individual passive subject confronting a survival-threatening stimulus." Thus, Lazarus's approach de-emphasises the social context in which emotion is normally experienced.


Zajonc (1980) and others have provided evidence that affective responses can occur in the absence of any conscious awareness of cognitive processing, and Lazarus (1982) does not dispute that this is possible. As Williams, Watts, MacLeod, and Mathews (1997, p. 3) pointed out, "There would .be fairly wide support for a reformulated version of Zajonc's thesis that emotion can be independent of conscious cognitive processes."

Several theorists have argued that this dispute between Zajonc and Lazarus is based on a false assumption. In the words of Power and Dalgleish (1997, p. 67), "The distinction presupposed in the Zajonc-Lazarus debate between cognition and emotion is a false one. The 'emotion' and the 'cognition' are integral and inseparable parts of each other and though it is useful to use different names for different aspects of the generation of emotion, the parts are no more separable than are waves from the water on which they occur." This view may exaggerate the similarities between emotion and cognition.

Multi-level theories

Progress in understanding how stimuli produce emotional reactions is most likely to occur when we have theories specifying the intervening processes. Two recent multi-level theories (those of LeDoux, 1992, 1996, and of Power & Dalgleish, 1997) are of value in this regard.

LeDoux (e.g., 1992, 1996) has focused exclusively on anxiety in his research. He has emphasised the role of the amgydala, which he regards as the brain's "emotional computer" for working out the emotional significance of stimuli. According to LeDoux, sensory information about emotional stimuli is relayed from the thalamus simultaneously to the amgydala and to the cortex. Of key relevance here, LeDoux (1992, 1996) argues that there are two different emotion circuits in anxiety:

1. A slow-acting thalamus-to-cortex-to-amygdala circuit involving detailed analysis of sensory information.

2. A fast-acting thalamus-amygdala circuit based on simple stimulus features (e.g., intensity); this circuit bypasses the cortex.

LeDoux (1992, p. 275) related his theory to the Zajonc-Lazarus debate:

The activation of the amygdala by inputs from the neocortex is. consistent with the classic notion that emotional processing is postcognitive, whereas the activation of the amygdala by thalamic inputs is consistent with the hypothesis, advanced by Zajonc (1980), that emotional processing can be preconscious and precognitive.

Why do we have two emotion circuits? The thalamus-amygdala circuit allows us to respond rapidly in threatening situations, and thus can be valuable in ensuring our survival. In contrast, the cortical circuit produces a detailed evaluation of the emotional significance of the situation, and so allows us to respond to situations in the most appropriate fashion.



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