Chapter 4: Cognitive Appraisal Theory

Relevance Check

The relevance check comprises the appraisals that occur earliest in the emotion experience and thus tend to be universal (Figure 3 shows the types of cognitive appraisals).  At the relevance check, humans and animals quickly determine how much of an impact the eliciting event have on their well-being.  The first appraisals relate to novelty of the eliciting events.  Changes in the situation that are interpreted as sudden, unfamiliar, and unpredictable are determined to be related to the well-being of the animal, and thus begin the emotional experience.  Events assessed as novel might elicit fear (e.g., “this bear is my backyard is sudden and unexpected!”).  While other events might be familiar and predictable – such as studying hard eliciting the emotion of pride.  Novelty is always the first cognitive appraisal that occurs, such that a new change in the environment attracts the organism’s attention toward the eliciting event.  After evaluating the level of novelty, organisms will assess pleasantness/unpleasantness of the event.  At this point in the emotional experience, the organism may feel globally positive or negative, but a clear discrete emotion is not yet identifiable.  Scherer (2001) states that typically, an evaluation of unpleasantness causes avoidance behavior and evaluation of pleasantness causes approach behavior (remember, anger is one exception). Following pleasantness, goal relevance (sometimes called goal significance) is the last step in the relevance appraisal check.  At this point, organisms evaluate the relationship between their goals and the eliciting event.  Eliciting events that closely impact one’s goals are more relevant.  Goals could include survival (avoiding death), satisfying drives like hunger, thirst, and sex, succeeding at a task,  or maintaining relationships.  Remember, goal relevance should be considered a dimensional measure, such that at any point in time the eliciting event could be high in goal relevance, low in goal relevance, or anywhere between high and low goal relevance.


Figure 3

 Relevance Check SECs

Three text boxes. the first box reads: Novelty: Suddenness, unfamiliarity, unpredictable. this box points to the next box which reads: Pleasantness. this box points to the next box which reads: Goal Relevance.
Graphic displaying the relevance check on universal appraisals.


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Psychology 425 by Michelle Yarwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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