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Cognitive appraisal is a cognitive process, the personal evaluation and interpretation of a situation (how an individual views a situation). "Appraisals refer to direct, immediate, and intuitive evaluations made on the environment in reference to personal well-being." They are "evaluative frameworks that people utilize to make sense of events." Cognitive appraisal is regarded by some sport psychologists as an important component of burnout. The perception of a situation can be the cause of a negative psychological reaction, rather than the situation itself. An athlete who loses a string of competitions can view it positively as a challenge and an opportunity to come back from adversity, or view it negatively as evidence that he or she will never be a successful competitor.
Cognitive appraisals determine if an event will be perceived as stressful.
The appraisal view of stress was developed by Richard Lazarus.
Richard Lazarus suggested that an individual's stress level is directly affected by their cognitive appraisal, (perception) of the event that triggers the stress. There are two stages of cognitive appraisal.
- Stage 1: we assess the threat in our given situation. If the threat is serious and real we would move on to the next stage.
- Stage 2: we evaluate whether or not we have the materials to deal with the stimulus causing the stress. During stage two if we find that we do not have the materials to cope with the stress causing stimulus it will determine the level of stress we experience. An example to this would be how people react to snakes, and the results are in great variations. A harmless garter snake might cause fear in some people and nothing in others. "*[pg 529 of Psychology the Science of Behavior/Neil R. Carlson...[et al.]. -4th Canadian ed.]"
Primary appraisals - initial evaluation of the situation; three kinds:
- Stressful - Harm/loss, Threat, Challenge
When an event is perceived as negative in the primary appraisal process, then the person makes a further appraisal in regard to:
- Harm: The assessment of the damage that the event has already caused.
- Threat: Possible future damage that the event may cause.
- Challenge: The potential to overcome and even profit from the event.
Secondary appraisals - evaluation of one’s ability to cope with a situation. Interacts with primary appraisal to determine emotional reaction to event.
Reappraisals - continuous re-evaluation of situation based on new information.
Some responses to stress are a conscious effort to cope with the stress
Cognitive responses to stress include beliefs:
- What causes stress?
- Can it be controlled?
- How harmful is it?
Factors in Appraisal
Vulnerability - When things of value are threatened
Person variables - Commitments, beliefs
Situation variables - Novelty, predictability, event uncertainty, imminence, duration, temporal uncertainty
Example in Sport
Steve Williams is quoted in his book Golf at the Top With Steve Williams, by suggesting top professional golfers do not morally judge a shot after it comes to rest. According to Williams:
"In the top golfers' eyes all shots are equal, and none is more equal that the others --- something that fits nicely into my native Kiwi egalitarianism. And since all golf shots are equal,there's no point in making value judgements on them. The top golfers just gather the data, and deliberately suppress any tendency to be either encouraged or discouraged by it. It's just data: it doesn't have a moral value."
This statement suggest that top athlete's use cognitive appraisal to devalue a particular situation or outcome neither judging it being good or bad. A situation or in this case, a singular golf shot, is what it is and nothing else. In professional golf, if the player were to allow a previous shot to dictate emotional levels, that player would experience a roller coaster of emotions on every hole since no shot, other than a hole in one, is considered perfect. By removing emotion and not placing a judgmental value on performance, like a particulate golf shot, the athlete is not held hostage psychologically by up and down swings in athletic performance or outcomes that sometimes are out of the athlete's control.
Appraisal Rebound Effects
Appraisal Rebound Effects refers to the stronger activation of an appraisal as a result of trying to suppress it. Wegner hypothesizes that supressing appraisals involve two mechanisms. The first is the conscious suppression of the appraisal and seeking distractors to avoid appraisal. The second mechanism is the unconscious process of searching for the appraisal, and when finding one, it alerts the conscious mechanism to find more distractors. This process requires too much cognitive resources, and so the distractors often fail, and the appraisal can become hyperaccessible, perpetuating the appraisal. Chronic appraisals are related to the chronic emotions of individuals since the way they chronically perceive situations affect their emotions. When individuals who tend to appraise situations in negative ways try to suppress the appraisal, they will be more likely to appraise another event negatively as well, and perpetuate their negative emotions. 
Steve Williams, Hugh De Lacy. Golf at the Top with Steve Williams: Tips and Techniques from the Caddy to Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman, and Tiger Woods, Ulysses Press, (2006) - ISBN 1569755272
Yap, Andy J.; Tong, Eddle M. W. (September 2009), "The Appraisal Rebound Effect: Cognitive Appraisals on the Rebound", Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35 (9): 195-221, doi:10.1177/0146167209338073
Two Phases of Cognitive Appraisal
- [pg 529 of Psychology the Science of Behavior/Neil R. Carlson...[et al.]. -4th Canadian ed.]