Psychotherapy and Neuroscience

Appraisal Models-Scherer et al.

Existing Appraisal Models

Keep in mind that which was cited earlier, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an appraisal as an evaluation of worth, significance, or status; an estimate.  Furthermore, an appraisal is part of a process that assesses the meaningfulness and relevance of ongoing and previously experienced perceptual (sensory-related) and/or emotional (reward or aversive-related) schematic experience.  A social appraisal (or a self-other appraisal, as social suggests the existence of interaction between two human beings) is a type of appraisal that cumulatively assesses the self, at any point in time, as a dynamic participant who interprets and attributes meaning to interpersonal interactions between self and other (Fiske & Taylor, 1991).

Also, as cited earlier, the social appraisal process can be best understood as being composed of sequentially expressed appraisals that are differentially expressed during an event, episode, or task to facilitate problem-solving and transaction analysis.  Initial appraisals during social interactions are primarily derived from raw data and perceptual input and assess and evaluate aspects of the environment, persons, and the self. Later social appraisal processes are derived from emotionally-generated input that conceptualize cognitive activity relating to planning for action and coping.

Klaus Scherer and Colleagues

Over the past decades many models have been developed that cite the nature of appraisal process progression. Klaus Scherer developed one of the earlier models (also see discussion on Lazarus’s primary and secondary appraisals  when he developed his “Information System Facets.” (Scherer,1984, p. 302).  Scherer (1984) noted that this facet system had the capacity to provide a basis for the later development of functional models of emotion. His model assessed what appraisals were; what they did; and how they functioned.  Scherer’s appraisal facets are occurrence of event, evaluation of outcome, attribution of causation, evaluation of coping potential, and comparison with external and internal standard.  1.) occurrence of event is derived from time, expectation, probability, and predictability1; 2.) evaluation of outcome emanates from intrinsic pleasantness, goal relevance, justice/equity2; 3.) attribution of causation is  as a result of agent, motive or cause, and legitimacy3; 4.) evaluation of coping  potential is the ability to control event, power to elicit change, capacity to cope4; and 5.) comparison with external or internal standard is derived from conformity with cultural expectations or norms and consistency with real or imagined self-image5.   Reference comments noted below.  The following figure summarizes the points relating to his model within context of Richard Lazarus’s (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Lazarus, 1991) primary and secondary appraisal model.

Click diagram for a larger view

Though this model coursed through many important aspects of the appraisal process, this model failed to conceptualize the internal model that is associated with many aspects of these facets and their development.  This internal model underlies and serves as a foundation for the development of these aspect processes like expectation, prediction, probability development, motivation and emotional expression, etc.  Certain appraisal facets like the first, occurrence of an event, might have benefited from greater explicit analysis.  For instance, an occurrence of an event is also associated with sensory stimuli, a context, a benefit or return, etc.  These components underlie event occurrences.  This model also failed to explicitly identify specific initial component processes leading to event outcomes, such as initial appraisal processes, motivations driving initial behavioral search for current and future well-being, the motivating influence of social reward salience, the role of appraisals in conceptualizing meaningfulness of social events to the self, the role of emotion in the appraisal process, etc.

Scherer replaced this model with another similar model called stimulus evaluation checks (SEC) of emotion.  These checks were “presumed to underlie the emotion-constituent appraisal process” (p. 319-Sandler, Grandjean, & Scherer, 2005).  SECs were initially defined as check-like or monitoring mechanisms that inspected, appraised, and evaluated (Scherer, 1984-p. 306) the environment for perceptual and environmental input important for eventually yielding expected outcome.  These processes eventually gave “rise to different emotions” (Leventhal & Scherer, 1987, p.13). Scherer’s (1984) and Leventhal & Scherer’s (1987) first SEC was noted as an evaluation of novelty in response to orienting to unexpected or novel stimuli, the second to be an evaluation of intrinsic pleasantness or desirability or unpleasantness of a stimulus, the third to be an evaluation of goal conduciveness as one seeks to attain a state of sense of well-being ending with attaining a desirable outcome, the fourth subcheck to be an evaluation of coping potential and sense of control over outcomes, and the last to be an evaluation of norm-self-compatibility. Such SECs typically precede emotional responses (Leventhal & Scherer, 1987).

The following figure reflects an enhanced depiction of Scherer and Leventhal’s SECs.  To help to support and add meaningfulness to the SEC conceptualization, the SEC figure has been placed within context of Richard Lazarus’s (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Lazarus, 1991) primary and secondary appraisal delineations.  Reference the depiction of SECs below.

Click diagram for a larger view

The figure suggests that SECs relating to the evaluation of novelty, intrinsic pleasantness, and goal relatedness may support Lazarus’s primary sensory-related appraisal processes.  SECs pertaining to coping potential and norm-self compatibility checks may support later secondary appraisal processes  (Leventhal & Scherer, 1987).

To support and add clarity to Scherer’s initial Stimulus Evaluation Check (SEC) model of emotion, Leventhal & Scherer (1987) introduced three cognitive response levels, e.g. sensorimotor level, schematic level, and conceptual level. The SECs were then analyzed within context of each of these cognitive response levels.  Though not cited explicitly, these three cognitive response levels (Leventhal, 1984) seem to be reminiscent of Jean Piaget’s ontogenetic cognitive-developmental stages for the following reasons. Both Leventhal & Scherer (1987) and Piaget (1972) suggest that all cognitive response levels are cumulative and build on one another throughout ontogenetic development onto adulthood.

During Leventhal’s(1984) and later Leventhal & Scherer’s (1987- p. 17) sensorimotor response level novelty is detected from orienting to a stimulus from which there had been no familiarity; perceived pleasantness or unpleasantness emanates from innate preferences or aversions, respectively; goal setting is based on relief from discomfort from basic primary needs and is evidenced in sucking or crying; coping potential is derived from available energy and alertness, whereas a failure in coping is evidenced in crying and fatigue; and norm-self compatibility evolves from empathetic adaptation between self and other.

Interestingly, during Jean Piaget’s initial three stages of the sensorimotor period (spanning the first three of 12 months) (Piaget, 1954), the infant relates everything to his/her body as if he/she was the center of (his/her sensory) universe; however, the infant is unaware of him or herself as the initiator of actions (p. 21-Piaget & Inhelder, 1962).  The infant’s world is characterized by innate behavioral and pleasure-seeking responses like sucking (learning about buccal space) and grasping (learning about tactile space) (p. 113 & 251- Piaget, 1954; p. 14-Piaget, 1981).  Innate unpleasant (and aversive) bodily sensations and discomfort (e.g. pain, hunger, thirst, discomfort from irritation, and frightening and sudden and startling auditory input) generate goal-related behavioral reactions like crying.  Crying as such communicates and implements a goal for pain and distress-relief from an internally or “any” externally generated source of discomfort. Maximal positive coping potential is also experienced as a parent responds to an infant’s distress crying.  Parental response facilitates control over outcomes for relief.  Strange or unexpected environmental sounds or visual images seem to surprise the infant (p. 3- Piaget, 1954) (suggesting some awareness of the unfamiliar).

Leventhal & Scherer’s (p. 17) schematic response level suggests capacities for discerning and contrasting the familiar from the unfamiliar.  A sense of the familiar typically evolves from prior exposure to a stimulus and responses to certain environmental conditions.  Therefore, Leventhal & Scherer’s novelty is the orienting to an object or a  person, comparing it (or matching it) with that which is already known and familiar (stored as existing schemata), and concluding that it is unfamiliar or novel; perceived pleasantness evolves from recognized learned preferences facilitating well-being and aversions from prior stressful experiences; goal setting develops from (cumulatively) acquired secondary needs and motives; coping potential centers on the adaptability of complex self-schema, i.e. the ability to exert control over outcomes; and norm-self compatibility evolves from self-social schemata (and the ability to form an early sense of self).

According to Jean Piaget (p. 169-Piaget, 1954), the three-ten month old infant’s emerging visuo-tactilo-kinesthetic coordination allows him/her to gain a sense of self (internal space) within context of the environment (external space) (p.128-9; Piaget, 1954).  Multidimensional sensory information provides input for an emerging, rudimentary internal representation of the interaction between internal (i.e. bodily-neuro-hormonal, visceral, neuro-emotional, neuro-cognitive, etc.) and external (i.e. environmental and interpersonal) reactions over time.  In fact, a cue-dependent rudimentary internal model’s existence is suggested as an infant turns his/her head to orient and search for a visual source of a familiar sound (in recognition of that sound (Piaget, 1968)) and stops looking when the perceived image (p.259 Piaget, 1954) matches to that which had been expected and is familiar.  These behaviors and emerging existence of an internal model, which is sensitive to cue-recognition, suggest evidence of a sense of familiarity.

Somewhere after 2 months but before 8 months of age, the infant links the value of a goal and goal satisfaction with feelings of success or failure and deliberate motor activity for reaching and grasping immediate objects, calling out to familiar sources of comfort, eliciting a smile from another, etc. (p. 14 & 26-Piaget, 1981).  The infant also emits an “expectant attitude”, that another will respond according to previous sequences of responses that had been experienced in an earlier and similar context (p.312-Piaget, 1954) as in a script, prototype, or event schema (Nelson, 1986; Baldwin, 1992). For example, the infant will initiate one action, like touching a parent, and expect the parent to initiate the next sequence in behaviors (p.314-Piaget, 1954). According to Piaget (1972) this is characteristic of schematization of conscious awareness.

The older infant (12-18 months) develops social goals, which are based on reciprocal activities and interactions with others (p. 36-Piaget, 1981). The infant’s emerging, but very rudimentary, sense of causality and affective decentration helps him/her to correctly identify significant others as external sources for pleasure, comfort, pacification, security, etc. (p.24-25; Piaget & Inhelder, 1962) and as being distinctly independent of the self (p. 40-Piaget, 1981).  The transformation of schemes into language-mediated concepts (Piaget, 1972) will give rise to representation of inner language and thought and Leventhal’s next response level, the conceptual response level.

At Leventhal’s conceptual response level novelty is evidenced during breaches of expectations in the familiar and in estimates of causality; pleasantness is derived from more complex stimuli and evidenced in an appreciation of certain sensory stimuli and an ability for being able to positively or negatively evaluate persons and events; goal setting is conscious and associated with (deliberate) planning and the development of complex assessment strategies; coping potential is evidenced in new found problem-solving abilities and the ability for finding resources and selecting strategies for dealing with certain situations; and norm-self compatibility is derived from one’s (ego-ideal), self-ideal and self-evaluation.

At 12-18 months of age the infant attains object permanence or the ability for remembering, expecting, and searching for an object in the location of its removal. The appearance of object permanence suggests an existence of an internal representation (Piaget, 1954-p.88) that can not only retrace the order of sequences where objects and generated actions had been experienced (Piaget, 1954-p.89) but also one that can represent the toddler as being part of space in context with other objects and relationships (Piaget, 1954-p. 233).  Though memory at this age is quite immediate; by age two years, the young child can remember events that had occurred just six months before (Fivush, Gray, Formhoff, 1987) and by four years the child as a rule can remember events that had commonly occurred two years before (Fivush & Hamond, 1990).

Language emergence from 18-24 months (Piaget, 1972-p. 21) allows for the conceptual representation of schemas (Piaget, 1972-p.25). Conceptualization transforms schemes into concepts, for a schema itself is not an object of thought, but an internal structure that is responsible for the formation of a concept or thought (a premotor response) and later actions (motor responses) (Piaget, 1972-p. 26).

There are both people and object schemes. Both types of schemes have cognitive and affective components (Piaget, 1981 p. 51).  Shaking a baby rattle is a simple scheme; the nature of baby-parent interactions is more complex. At 12-18 months feelings about self and other emerge during social exchanges (Piaget, 1981 p. 36). Starting from 18-24 months through the remainder of childhood development, there is an emerging consciousness of self, of another/others, and of the correspondence of self and others (during interpersonal interaction) (Piaget, 1981 p. 41). Throughout this period internalized moral feelings, such as embarrassment, shame, blame, etc. emerge from earlier and current interpersonal (baby-parent) interaction (Piaget, 1981 p. 41).

According to Piaget (1981) positive interpersonal feelings suggest reciprocity of values and attitudes, and equivalent interpersonal exchanges (p. 47). Positive interpersonal feelings (“interpersonal attraction”-p. 47) underlie the later development of positive self-esteem and offset and mitigate feelings of inferiority or the need to impute feelings of superiority. Interpersonal schemes (or scripts) generate behavioral responses to corresponding interpersonal situations, even though the nature of interaction may vary from one situation to another (Piaget, 1981-p. 51). This common thread reflects the schematization of affective and cognitive reactions (Piaget, 1981-p.51).

One may conclude from the above that the most rudimentary perceptual analysis experienced in the course of appraisal development is likely at nearly a reflexive level, the sensorimotor level (which also coincides with Piaget’s first two stages of development) and is characterized by sudden intense sensory stimulation, satisfaction of basic needs, the availability of energy, and empathetic adaptation. The schematic level, likely comparable to Piaget’s mid-first year through the second year and is characterized by processing that centers on the ability for matching to some previous sensory representation, learning which is characterized by the ability for recognition and for developing later stimulus preferences or aversions, for acquiring needs and motivations, and the ability for developing awareness of bodily schemata and self-other schema. Finally, the conceptual level, likely comparable to the child’s third year and Piaget’s concrete operations, allows for the expression of an internal model for representing the development of the ability for anticipation, probability development, estimation, assessment of the cause and effect relationships between stimuli and abilities for full recallable and retrievable evaluations about stimuli and relationships, the capability for problem-solving, deliberate planning, goal development and development of an ego-ideal and moral self.

The direct conceptualization of rudimentary schemas allows emergence of verbally expressed primary appraisals cited earlier. As goal setting becomes more conscious and associated with deliberate planning around complex strategies, the conceptualization is embodied in a secondary appraisal.

In 2001 Scherer modified and expanded his SECs.  He delineated the different checks noted above somewhat differently.  These checks underlay appraisal development and later emotional expression.  The first check, relevance detection was composed of some variables noted above, such as novelty, intrinsic pleasantness, and goal/need relevance.  Accordingly, these variables warranted an organism’s potential orientation and attention to a stimulus. The second check, implication assessment, was composed of the following variables, causal attribution, outcome probability, discrepancy from expectation, goal conduciveness, and later urgency check (Sander, Grandjean, & Scherer, 2005).  Implication assessment thus described the course relating to a situation’s outcome, i.e. the problem-solving activity that directly preceded later behavioral implementation, the environmental outcome to generated action, and the implications of the outcome.  The third check, coping potential determination, related to the organism’s adjustment to the outcome and sense of control over the given outcome.  Three aspects of coping potential determination were likewise noted as control, power and potential for adjustment (Sander, Grandjean & Scherer, 2005).  The last check, normative significance evaluation was composed of both internal and external standards checks, which compared the outcome’s standard against the standard set up by the organism’s internal model.

Therefore the SEC model of emotion can be used to summarize the different components in the appraisal process.  The first check, relevance detection, relates to stimulus (and parameter) qualities and the potential return the organism can derive from the stimulus.  The second check examines how the internal representation of the task meets task demands, the effectiveness of the action strategy that had been developed to implement and meet task demands, the outcome of the implemented plan, and the meaning of the outcome on the developed plan’s success or failure.  The third check accounts for the organism’s adjustment to the environmental outcome.  Finally the fourth check compares the internal standard with the external standard provided by the environment or relationship.  In other words relevance detection and implication assessment may be considered variables of primary appraisals; coping potential determination and normative significance may be interpreted as being components of secondary appraisals.  Both the 2001 and 2005 articles elaborated on the nature of the different response levels within context of the original SECs cited in Scherer, 1984 and Leventhal & Scherer (1987).

Additional Comments:

1An appraisal is developed from monitoring and evaluating an occurrence of an event.  According to Scherer, in order to evaluate an occurrence of an event, one needs to examine different components such as time, expectation, probability, and predictability.  This appraisal model does not seem provide detail on the content, namely stimulus features and paradigm parameters noted in future models and Grandjean, Sandler, & Scherer, 2005.  These details would be important for developing an appraisal which conceptualizes stimulus and parameter probability, predictability, and internal model-based expectation.

2 Another appraisal is developed to evaluate the outcome.  According to Scherer in order to evaluate an outcome at this point in the appraisal process, one would need to examine intrinsic pleasantness (of stimulus, context, etc.), goal relevance, and justice/equity.

3 Another appraisal is made that attributes causation by examining the agent, motive or cause, and legitimacy of the current state.  Attribution lends clarity and meaning to the environmental response.  This has the capacity to enhance later control over outcomes.

4Another appraisal is developed to evaluate coping potential by examining the ability or the extent for control over outcomes, the power to elicit change over an event or outcome, and capacity for coping.  Coping potential is thus interpreted as being directly tied to the social motive of control over outcomes.

5 The last type of appraisal compares one’s internal standard with the external one available in the environment by examining one’s reference with how one has conformed with prior cultural expectations or norms in the past and the nature and consistency of one’s real or imagined self-image.


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