Appraisal theory is the theory in psychology that emotions are extracted from our evaluations (appraisals or estimates) of events that cause specific reactions in different people. Essentially, our appraisal of a situation causes an emotional, or affective, response that is going to be based on that appraisal. An example of this is going on a first date. If the date is perceived as positive, one might feel happiness, joy, giddiness, excitement, and/or anticipation, because they have appraised this event as one that could have positive long-term effects, i.e. starting a new relationship, engagement, or even marriage. On the other hand, if the date is perceived negatively, then our emotions, as a result, might include dejection, sadness, emptiness, or fear. (Scherer et al., 2001) Reasoning and understanding of one’s emotional reaction becomes important for future appraisals as well. The important aspect of the appraisal theory is that it accounts for individual variances of emotional reactions to the same event.
Appraisal theories of emotion are theories that state that emotions result from people’s interpretations and explanations of their circumstances even in the absence of physiological arousal (Aronson, 2005). There are two basic approaches; the structural approach and process model. These models both provide an explanation for the appraisal of emotions and explain in different ways how emotions can develop. In the absence of physiological arousal we decide how to feel about a situation after we have interpreted and explained the phenomena. Thus the sequence of events is as follows: event, thinking, and simultaneous events of arousal and emotion. Social psychologists have used this theory to explain and predict coping mechanisms and people’s patterns of emotionality. By contrast, for example, personality psychology studies emotions as a function of a person’s personality, and thus does not take into account the person’s appraisal, or cognitive response, to a situation.
The main controversy surrounding these theories argues that emotions cannot happen without physiological arousal.
The question studied under appraisal theories is why people react to things differently. Even when presented with the same, or a similar situation all people will react in slightly different ways based on their perception of the situation. These perceptions elicit various emotions that are specific to each person.