Appraisal Theory

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Acronyms are not commonly used for appraisal theory

Alternate name(s)

Cognitive Appraisal Theory – CAT, Appraisal Theory of Emotions

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Affect; Emotion Quality and Intention

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Appraisal variables: Relevance, Desirability, Causal Attribution such as agency or blame/credit, Likelihood, Unexpectedness, Urgency, Ego Involvement, Coping Potential such as Controllability, Changeability, Power, Adaptability

Concise description of theory

Appraisal theory of emotions is a theoretical framework which explains emotions are triggered by the individual’s evaluation of events which enables certain reactions. These reactions vary among different people as per their interpretations and explanations of the circumstances (Scherer, 2001). Magda Arnold put the foundation explaining the triggers of emotions through appraisal of situations and specified that it is the first step in emotion in her work “cognitive theory” (Arnold, 1960) (Arnold, Emotion and personality: Vol. 2., 1960). Further advancement of her work suggests that initial appraisals begin the emotional sequences leading to specific actions and emotional experiences as well. The physiological changes accompany the actions and experiences (Arnold, Feelings and emotions: The Loyola Symposium, 1970).

Continuing with the works by Magda Arnold, Richard Lazarus developed the theory to explain long range and immediate outcomes in a stressful-person environment relations with mediators as cognitive appraisal and coping processes.  Cognitive appraisal process can be described in two appraisal methods. In primary appraisal, an individual evaluates risks and stakes under certain personal-environment relations.  In secondary appraisal, an individual evaluates the resources available with him to further develop coping mechanism. These appraisals converge to whether a transaction with environment is significant for an individual’s well-being and categorised as threatening and challenging (Susan Folkman, 1986).

Coping is defined as individual’s constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to handle person-environment transactions appraised as exceeding the available resources of an individual. Coping helps to regulate stressful emotions referred to as emotion-focused coping and to alter the stressful person-environment relation causing the stress described as problem-focused coping. Coping is process oriented, contextual and makes no a priori differentiation between bad and good coping mechanism (Lazarus, 1991).

Diagram/schematic of theory

Appraisal Theory Diagram

Originating author(s)

Magda Arnold and Richard Lazarus

Seminal articles

Folkman, S., Lazarus, R.S. If It Changes It Must Be a Process. Study of Emotion and Coping During Three Stages of a College Examination (1985) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48 (1), pp. 150-170. Cited 2753 times. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.48.1.150

Folkman, S., Lazarus, R.S., Dunkel-Schetter, C., DeLongis, A., Gruen, R.J. Dynamics of a Stressful Encounter. Cognitive Appraisal, Coping, and Encounter Outcomes (1986) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50 (5), pp. 992-1003. Cited 2588 times. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.50.5.992

Smith, C.A., Ellsworth, P.C. Patterns of Cognitive Appraisal in Emotion (1985) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48 (4), pp. 813-838. Cited 2365 times. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.48.4.813

Originating area


Level of analysis


Links to WWW sites describing theory

Links from this theory to other theories

Cognitive-Motivational-Relational Theory of Emotion

IS articles that use the theory

Beaudry, A., Pinsonneault, A. The other side of acceptance: Studying the direct and indirect effects of emotions on information technology use (2010) MIS Quarterly: Management Information Systems, 34 (4), pp. 689-710. Cited 449 times.

Marsella, S.C., Gratch, J. EMA: A process model of appraisal dynamics (2009) Cognitive Systems Research, 10 (1), pp. 70-90. Cited 284 times.

Caplan, S.E., Turner, J.S. Bringing theory to research on computer-mediated comforting communication (2007) Computers in Human Behavior, 23 (2), pp. 985-998. Cited 116 times.

Dias, J., Mascarenhas, S., Paiva, A. FAtiMA modular: Towards an agent architecture with a generic appraisal framework (2014) Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics), 8750, pp. 44-56. Cited 104 times.

Marinier III, R.P., Laird, J.E., Lewis, R.L. A computational unification of cognitive behavior and emotion (2009) Cognitive Systems Research, 10 (1), pp. 48-69. Cited 93 times.

Staller, A., Petta, P. Introducing emotions into the computational study of social norms: A first evaluation (2001) JASSS, 4 (1), 32 p. Cited 71 times.

Lee, C.-C., Mower, E., Busso, C., Lee, S., Narayanan, S. Emotion recognition using a hierarchical binary decision tree approach (2009) Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association, INTERSPEECH, pp. 320-323. Cited 62 times.

Marsella, S., Gratch, J. Computationally modeling human emotion (2014) Communications of the ACM, 57 (12), pp. 56-67. Cited 58 times.

Broekens, J., DeGroot, D., Kosters, W.A. Formal models of appraisal: Theory, specification, and computational model (2008) Cognitive Systems Research, 9 (3), pp. 173-197. Cited 44 times.

Khoo, C.S.-G., Nourbakhsh, A., Na, J.-C. Sentiment analysis of online news text: A case study of appraisal theory (2012) Online Information Review, 36 (6), pp. 858-878. Cited 35 times.

Korenek, P., Šimko, M. Sentiment analysis on microblog utilizing appraisal theory (2014) World Wide Web, 17 (4), pp. 847-867. Cited 34 times.

Sutanto, J., Jiang, Q. Knowledge seekers' and contributors' reactions to recommendation mechanisms in knowledge management systems (2013) Information and Management, 50 (5), pp. 258-263. Cited 30 times.

Ding, Y. Looking forward: The role of hope in information system continuance (2019) Computers in Human Behavior, 91, pp. 127-137. Cited 28 times.

Kim, H.-R., Kwon, D.-S. Computational model of emotion generation for human-robot interaction based on the cognitive appraisal theory (2010) Journal of Intelligent and Robotic Systems: Theory and Applications, 60 (2), pp. 263-283. Cited 27 times.

Balahur, A., Hermida, J.M., Montoyo, A., Muñoz, R. EmotiNet: A knowledge base for emotion detection in text built on the appraisal theories (2011) Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics), 6716 LNCS, pp. 27-39. Cited 25 times.

Chen, M.-J. Examining the Influence of Emotional Expressions in Online Consumer Reviews on Perceived Helpfulness (2020) Information Processing and Management, 57 (6), art. no. 102266, . Cited 24 times.

Meuleman, B., Scherer, K. Nonlinear appraisal modeling: An application of machine learning to the study of emotion production (2013) IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, 4 (4), art. no. 6645367, pp. 398-411. Cited 24 times.

De Melo, C.M., Carnevale, P., Gratch, J. The effect of virtual agents' emotion displays and appraisals on people's decision making in negotiation (2012) Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics), 7502 LNAI, pp. 53-66. Cited 24 times.

Barakova, E.I., Gorbunov, R., Rauterberg, M. Automatic Interpretation of Affective Facial Expressions in the Context of Interpersonal Interaction (2015) IEEE Transactions on Human-Machine Systems, 45 (4), art. no. 7105880, pp. 409-418. Cited 23 times.

Lim, J.S. How a paracrisis situation is instigated by an online firestorm and visual mockery: Testing a paracrisis development model (2017) Computers in Human Behavior, 67, pp. 252-263. Cited 22 times.

Stacey, P.K., Tether, B.S. Designing emotion-centred Product Service Systems: The case of a cancer care facility (2015) Design Studies, 40, pp. 85-118. Cited 22 times.

Argamon, S., Bloom, K., Esuli, A., Sebastiani, F. Automatically determining attitude type and force for sentiment analysis (2009) Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics), 5603 LNAI, pp. 218-231. Cited 22 times.

Malatesta, L., Raouzaiou, A., Karpouzis, K., Kollias, S. Towards modeling embodied conversational agent character profiles using appraisal theory predictions in expression synthesis (2009) Applied Intelligence, 30 (1), pp. 58-64. Cited 22 times.

Van Der Sluis, F., Van Den Broek, E.L., Glassey, R.J., Van Dijk, E.M.A.G., De Jong, F.M.G. When complexity becomes interesting (2014) Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 65 (7), pp. 1478-1500. Cited 21 times.

Aydt, H., Lees, M., Luo, L., Cai, W., Low, M.Y.H., Kadirvelen, S.K. A computational model of emotions for agent-based crowds in serious games (2011) Proceedings - 2011 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conference on Intelligent Agent Technology, IAT 2011, 2, art. no. 6040757, pp. 72-80. Cited 20 times.


Arnold, M. B. (1960). Emotion and personality: Vol. 1 Psychological aspects. New York: Columbia University Press.

Arnold, M. B. (1960). Emotion and personality: Vol. 2. Columbia University Press.

Arnold, M. B. (1970). Feelings and emotions: The Loyola Symposium. Academic Press.

Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Progress on a cognitive-motivational-relational theory of emotion. American Psychologist, 46(8), 819–834.

Scherer, K. R. (2001). Appraisal processes in emotion: theory, methods, research. Oxford University Press.

Susan Folkman, R. S.-S. (1986). Dynamics of a Stressful Encounter: Cognitive Appraisal, Coping, and Encounter Outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(5), 992–1003.


Smit Ghelani, Doctoral Student at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, India

Date last updated

20/08/2022, Please feel free to make modifications to this site. In order to do so, you must register.