Richard Lazarus

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We will begin with a brief discussion of Lazarus' (1966) early theory before going on to consider his more recent revisions (Lazarus, 1991). In the influential 1966 version, emotion was considered to arise from how individuals construed or appraised their ongoing transactions with the world. Cognitive appraisal was considered to occur in two stages. Primary appraisal refers to an initial evaluation of whether an encounter is irrelevant, benign, positive, or stressful; thus, the conclusion that an encounter is stressful occurs in situations in which there is an appraisal of threat, challenge, harm, or loss. Secondary appraisal refers to the individual's subsequent evaluation of coping resources and options that may be available. Primary appraisal and secondary appraisal processes work in conjunction with each other. For example, if coping resources are seen to be adequate for dealing with a threat, then the threat will be seen to be of less significance, whereas if the individual thinks that a threat will overwhelm coping resources, then the threat may become of catastrophic proportions. To give an example, a holidaymaker goes abroad to a hot country and is frightened by large black insects that keep flying at him; he worries that these might be harmful, but then reads in a guidebook: (a) that these are a harmless variety of beetle that in fact are a great delicacy among the locals, and so, being of sound constitution and considerable pluckiness, he proceeds to attract them in greater numbers; or (b) that these insects can provide a painless harmless bite, therefore he administers insect repellent in order to prevent them biting; or (c) that they carry a dangerous tropical disease for which there is no known cure, and so he locks himself in his hotel room and catches the next flight home. In each example the primary appraisal of harm is modified, for better or for worse, by secondary appraisal processes. A summary of these proposals is presented in Figure 3.14.

Lazarus and his colleagues have also argued (e.g., Folkman & Lazarus, 1980) that secondary appraisal coping processes can be categorised into two main varieties, emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping. In emotion-focused coping the individual attempts to deal with the resulting emotional state through, for example, the use of various defence mechanisms. Problem-focused coping is more likely to be used when the situation is appraised as changeable, and therefore the individual attempts to alter the problem that is causing the distress rather than simply coping with the stress itself. The distinction between problem- and emotion-focused strategies has proven extremely useful both in the area of coping and in adjoining areas such as social support (e.g., Power, Champion, & Aris, 1988). In research on depression, for example, it has been found that depressed individuals tend to use more emotion-focused than problem-focused strategies (e.g., Folkman & Lazarus, 1985). Furthermore, Nolen-Hoeksema's (1987, 2002) suggestion that the higher rates of depression among women in comparison to men is due to women's use of "ruminative" strategies (see Chapter 7) may therefore be equivalent to the greater use of this emotion-focused strategy by women.

Lazarus Cognitive Appraisal Theory
Figure 3.14 A summary of Lazarus' early appraisal theory. EF = emotion-focused coping; PF = problem-focused coping.

This early theory of Lazarus was one of the most influential in highlighting the importance of cognitive appraisal processes. However, its weakness lies in the fact that the theory focuses on stress in general and is not a theory of emotion per se; the early theory therefore requires modification for it to become one in which specific emotions are linked to specific appraisals. We will now consider Lazarus' own later modification of the theory to obviate this problem, although as we will see there are alternative modifications that are also possible.

Lazarus (1991, 2001) has presented a substantially modified version of his appraisal theory in order to make it a theory of emotion rather than a general theory of stress. First, though, we should note that there are variants of this approach, for example in collaborative work between Lazarus and some of his colleagues (e.g., Smith & Lazarus, 1990), which Lazarus has now explicitly revised in his latest approach. Lazarus (1991) has termed his new theory a "cognitive-motivational-relational" theory. The main proposal is that each emotion has a specific relational meaning or so-called "core relational theme"; that is, the appraisal of a particular person-environment relation is unique to each emotion. There are three revised types of primary appraisal: first, goal relevance, which is the assessment of the environment for relevance to an individual's goals; second, goal congruency or incongruency, which is an assessment of enabling versus blocking of a goal; and third, type of ego-involvement; that is, the extent to which an event has implications for self-esteem, moral values, life goals, and so on. Secondary appraisal consists of an assessment of blame versus credit, coping resources, and expectations for the future. Lazarus, in agreement with other theorists such as Frijda (1986), suggests that there may be some innate mechanisms linked with the appraisal of personal harm or benefit which are termed "action tendencies"; these action tendencies are not simply innate behavioural mechanisms, such as "fight or flight", but rather are the basis for the physiological patterns associated with each emotion (see also Chapter 2). As in his earlier theory, secondary appraisal can enhance, override, or inhibit these innate action tendencies.

An outline of a set of emotions and their core relational themes is presented in Table 3.6. These themes are derived from both Lazarus' and other researchers' conceptual analyses of emotions, although it is as yet unclear how Lazarus' analysis compares with these other analyses (e.g., Frijda, 1986; Johnson-Laird & Oatley, 1989; Ortony, Clore, & Collins, 1988). We might also question whether these supposed core relational themes amount to little more than a dictionary-like definition of the relevant emotion. However, the point at which Lazarus does take his revised theory beyond being a redefinition of each emotion term is in his application of the primary and secondary appraisal components to each emotion; Table 3.7 illustrates the combination of appraisals associated with anger. The table shows that a statement is made about how the primary appraisals (goal relevance, goal congruence or incongruence, and ego-involvement), and the secondary appraisals of blame or credit, coping resources, and future expectancies, all apply in the analysis of anger. In fact, Table 3.7 shows that many of the appraisals are considered to be common to all of the emotions; thus, the initial primary appraisal of "goal relevance" is linked to any emotion, and the appraisal of goal incongruence is linked to any negative emotion.

Lazarus' (1991) revised theory has been influential, although probably not as influential as the earlier work for the following reasons. First, Lazarus side-steps the issue of the relation between emotions and the possibility that certain primitive or

3. COGNITIVE THEORIES OF EMOTION Table 3.6 Emotions and their core relational themes (from Lazarus, 1991)

Emotion Core relational theme

Anger A demeaning offence against me and mine.

Anxiety Facing uncertain, existential threat.

Fright Facing an immediate, concrete and overwhelming physical danger.

Guilt Having transgressed a moral imperative.

Shame Having failed to live up to an ego-ideal.

Sadness Having experienced an irrevocable loss.

Envy Wanting what someone else has.

Jealousy Resenting a third party for loss or threat to another's affection.

Disgust Taking in or being too close to an indigestible object or idea

(metaphorically speaking).

Happiness Making reasonable progress towards the realisation of a goal.

Pride Enhancement of one's ego-identity by taking credit for a valued object or achievement, either one's own or that of some or group with whom we identify.

Relief A distressing goal-incongruent condition that has changed for the better or gone away.

Hope Fearing the worst but yearning for better.

Love Desiring or participating in affection, usually but not necessarily reciprocated.

Compassion Being moved by another's suffering and wanting to help.

Table 3.7 Appraisals for anger: Components 1-4 are necessary and sufficient (from Lazarus, 1991)

Anger: Primary appraisal components

1. If there is goal relevance, then any emotion is possible, including anger If not, no emotion

2. If there is goal incongruence, then only negative emotions are possible, including anger

3. If the type of ego-involvement engaged is to preserve or enhance the self- or social-esteem aspect of one's ego-identity, then the emotion possibilities include anger, anxiety, and pride

Anger: Secondary appraisal components

4. If there is blame, which derives from the knowledge that someone is accountable for the harmful emotions, and they could have been controlled, then anger occurs. If the blame is to another, the anger is directed externally, if to oneself, the anger is directed internally

5. If coping potential favours attack as viable, then anger is facilitated

6. If future expectancy is positive about the environmental response to attack, then anger is facilitated basic emotions provide the basis for more complex emotions; thus, each of the emotions shown in Table 3.6 is claimed to stand alone despite the clear overlap that arises from the appraisal components. Lazarus restricts the possibility of "combined" emotions to the simultaneous activation of two or more of the emotions shown in Table 3.6—for example, "bitterness" is considered to combine anger and sadness in the sense that the two relevant sets of appraisals for anger and sadness are said to be evoked at the same time. However, our view is that there is now considerable evidence (e.g., in the work of Ekman, Oatley and Johnson-Laird, and Plutchik; see earlier in this chapter) in favour of the proposal that there is a limited set of basic emotions from which more complex emotions are derived through additional cognitive processing of self and self-other relationships.

A second problem is that it is unclear how Lazarus derives the list of emotions shown in Table 3.6 and why this list should be seen to be exhaustive. For example, the list includes two fear-related emotions "Anxiety" and "Fright" which might parsimoniously be derived from a single basic emotion of fear given the considerable overlap between the two emotions; similar analyses could be applied to other pairs in the table such as "Happiness" and "Pride", "Envy" and "Jealousy", and "Guilt" and "Shame". In sum, the whole enterprise requires more supporting empirical evidence than has yet been obtained.

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  • Samuel
    What is emotion in Lazarus theory?
    3 years ago

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