Cognitive appraisal model refers to Lazarus’ theory of how thinking plays a strong role in stress. It was Richard Lazarus ’ theory of why people get stressed and defined as the imbalance between the demands placed on the individual and that individual’s resources to cope.

In the psychology context, "cognitive appraisal" refers to the process by which an individual evaluates and interprets an event or situation to determine its significance for their well-being. This evaluation plays a crucial role in understanding emotional reactions and coping mechanisms in response to stress and other life events. Cognitive appraisal is a central concept in stress and coping theories, particularly in the work of psychologists Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman.


Cognitive appraisal involves two key stages:

  1. Primary Appraisal: This is the initial evaluation of a situation, where an individual assesses whether an event is a threat, challenge, or harm/loss. This stage determines if the event has any relevance to the individual's personal goals and well-being, and the kind of emotional response it may elicit.

  2. Secondary Appraisal: Following the primary appraisal, secondary appraisal involves evaluating one's resources and options for coping with the situation. It assesses the ability to handle the perceived threat or challenge, including available support, knowledge, and emotional resilience.

The outcome of these appraisals influences the individual's emotional response and coping strategies. For example, perceiving a situation as a challenge rather than a threat can lead to more adaptive coping mechanisms and less negative emotional impact.

Application Areas

Cognitive appraisal theory is applied in various areas of psychology, including:

  • Stress Management: Understanding how individuals appraise stressful events helps in developing effective stress reduction techniques.
  • Emotional Psychology: Insights into how cognitive appraisals shape emotional responses are crucial for emotional regulation strategies.
  • Health Psychology: Cognitive appraisal processes influence how people respond to illness and make health-related decisions.
  • Clinical Psychology: Appraisal theories inform therapeutic approaches to help individuals reframe their perceptions of stressful events and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Well-Known Examples

A classic example of cognitive appraisal can be seen in exam situations. Two students may perceive the stress of an upcoming exam differently: one may view it as a challenge and an opportunity to excel (leading to positive emotions and proactive studying), while the other sees it as a threat to their academic standing (possibly resulting in anxiety and avoidance behaviors).

Treatment and Risks

Understanding cognitive appraisal processes is important for psychological interventions aimed at managing stress and emotional disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for instance, often focuses on helping individuals change maladaptive appraisals of stressful situations into more positive or realistic ones. However, it's important for interventions to be tailored to the individual, as misapplication of cognitive appraisal strategies might lead to increased stress or avoidance rather than improved coping.

Similar Terms or Synonyms

  • Cognitive Evaluation: Often used interchangeably with cognitive appraisal, though it can also refer more broadly to the process of assessing any cognitive content.
  • Stress Appraisal: Specifically refers to the appraisal process in the context of stress.


Cognitive appraisal is a fundamental concept in psychology that explains how individuals evaluate and interpret events and situations, influencing their emotional responses and coping strategies. It underscores the importance of perception in emotional and psychological outcomes and offers a framework for interventions aimed at improving stress management and emotional well-being.

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