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Lazarus Theory of Emotion

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Lazarus Theory of Emotion

You and your friends are watching a scary movie when you hear someone banging on the door. Do you A) think that someone is coming to get you or B) feel scared? Well, depending on which theory of emotion you believe is correct, you might experience both simultaneously or one before the other.

  • What is the Lazarus theory of emotion?

  • What is the Lazarus cognitive mediational theory of motion?

  • What are some examples of the Lazarus theory of emotion?

  • What kind of experiments support the Lazarus theory of emotion?

  • How does the Lazarus theory of emotion relate to psychology?

Definition of the Lazarus Theory of Emotion

What comes first: our cognition or our emotion? If you were to ask Richard Lazarus (1991), he would argue that our cognition (thought) comes first. However, before either can occur, we need a stimulus to begin the process.

In Lazarus's theory of emotion, there are four components in the cycle of emotion.

These four factors have to occur in the order below:

  1. A stimulus is introduced

  2. The individual creates a cognitive appraisal of the stimulus

  3. An emotional response is produced based on the cognitive appraisal

  4. A physiological response is formed based on the emotional response

Notice how each step of the cycle builds on the one before it. A stimulus is any internal or external factor experienced by an individual. That's a wide range of possibilities! Cognitive appraisals are what a person thinks about the stimulus. Do they like it? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? Does it trigger memories?

Emotional responses are mental and biological reactions indicated by pleasure, pain, and other feelings. Physiological responses are bodily functions that sometimes happen automatically.

The Lazarus theory of emotion says that humans respond to experiences cognitively first, emotionally second, and physically last. Lazarus believed that the order is always the same in every situation. Which emotions and physiological responses the person experiences depend on how they think about the event.

Lazarus Theory of Emotion, a flowchart of the four stages in the Lazarus theory of emotion, StudySmarterThe Lazarus Theory of Emotion, StudySmarter Original

The Lazarus Cognitive Mediational Theory of Emotion

The cognitive mediational theory of emotion is the full and proper name for Lazarus's theory of emotion. Richard Lazarus was an American psychologist who focused on studying human emotion; his theory of emotion is his most well-known work. Lazarus based his theory on Magda Arnold’s "Appraisal Theory of Emotion". Arnold's theory says that cognitive appraisals signal emotional and physiological responses. She believed that emotion and physiological reactions come after cognitions.

You’re probably wondering how Lazarus's theory differs from Arnold’s. Arnold speculated that cognitive appraisals only signal the emotional and physiological responses to occur. Lazarus believed that cognitive appraisals determine emotional and physiological responses. Lazarus also added that our cognitive appraisals occur mostly unconsciously. Wait, unconscious thoughts cause our emotions and bodily responses? This is what Lazarus believed!

Lazarus Theory of Emotion, a girl thinking hard, StudySmarterCognitive appraisal, pexels.com

Examples of the Lazarus Theory of Emotion

Examples of Lazarus's theory happen in everyday life. Here are a few examples that show how this theory can play out.

Annie is playing outside when she sees a snake hiding in the grass (stimulus). She sees that the snake is about 3 feet long and recognizes that it is dangerous (cognitive appraisal). Annie feels scared (emotional response), and her pulse increases (physiological response).

Jack is hiking through the woods when he hears a rustling in the bushes (stimulus). Jack looks at the bush. All of a sudden, a squirrel jumps out! Jack recognizes that he is not in danger (cognitive appraisal), feels relieved (emotional response), relaxes his muscles (physiological response), and continues with his hike.

Jessica and Alina are walking home together after work. On the way back to their apartment, they pass a dark alleyway between restaurants and shops. As they walk, they notice three guys a few feet behind them (stimulus). Jessica assumes that they are thieves (cognitive appraisal), while Alina thinks they are just walking to their destination (cognitive appraisal). Jessica feels uneasy, while Alina feels calm (emotional response). Although Alina is relaxed (physiological response) and tries to calm Jessica down, Jessica's hands start to feel sweaty (physiological response).

Lazarus Theory of Emotion, a girl staring at a laptop screen while stressed, StudySmarterStress, pexel.com

The Lazarus Theory of Emotion Experiment

Lazarus (1963) published an experiment on the relationship between cognitive appraisals and our responses to stress. In this study, volunteers were asked to watch a 17-minute video of Australian Aboriginals performing a ritual. The video was supposed to elicit a stress response because it depicted the genital mutilation of young male Aboriginals. The stress responses of the volunteers were measured before, during, and after watching the video through heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance.

Lazarus provided four different versions of the video. His control group watched the video with zero narration. In another group of participants, the video was narrated as an educational video. The narrator sounded like an anthropologist trying to analyze the situation with little emotion. In the next group, the video included narration that denied the harmful effects of genital mutilation. The narrator emphasized that it was part of Aboriginal culture and symbolized emerging adulthood. In the last group, the video included narration that induced emotion by talking about the suffering and trauma the boys were enduring.

The experiment results showed that the volunteers experienced stress responses during all four videos. However, the last video that narrated the traumatic aspects of the situation caused the highest level of stress. The different types of video narration were designed to influence different kinds of cognitive appraisals: any (no audio), none (educational), positive (cultural), and negative (traumatic). The version of narration that caused the highest stress response was the last one, even though all participants watched the same video.

The Lazarus Theory of Emotion in Psychology

The Lazarus theory of emotion is an important part of psychology. It provides a sequence for how humans experience emotion. Lazarus emphasized the connection between our cognitions, emotions, and bodily responses. This information is invaluable to therapy, and it is foundational to cognitive-behavioral therapy in particular. His theory also helps explain why individuals sometimes react differently to the same situation. Cognitive appraisals and emotional responses are entirely subjective and differ from one person to another, even when the stimulus is the same.

The Lazarus Theory of Emotion - Key Takeaways

  • In the Lazarus theory of emotion, there are four components to experiencing emotion:
    1. A stimulus is introduced
    2. A cognitive appraisal is created in response to the stimulus
    3. An emotional response is produced based on the cognitive appraisal
    4. A physiological response is formed based on the emotional response
  • The Lazarus theory of emotion says that humans respond to experiences cognitively first, emotionally second, and physically last.
  • The cognitive mediational theory of emotion is the full and proper name for Lazarus's theory of emotion.
  • Lazarus (1963) published an experiment on the relationship between cognitive appraisals and our responses to stress.
    • The version of narration that caused the highest stress response was the last one, even though all participants watched the same video.
  • Lazarus emphasized the connection between our cognitions, emotions, and bodily responses, which is foundational to cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions about Lazarus Theory of Emotion

The Lazarus theory of emotion is an explanation for how we experience emotions. 

Lazarus' theory of emotion differs from Canon-Bard's and James-Lange's in that cognitive appraisal occurs before emotion. 

The Lazarus theory of emotion was proposed in 1991 by Richard Lazarus. 

The three elements of Lazarus' model of stress are (1) harm, (2) threat, and (3) challenge.

Three theories of emotion are the Lazarus, James-Lange, and the Canon-Bard theory of emotion.

Final Lazarus Theory of Emotion Quiz

Question

What is Lazarus' theory of emotion?  

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Answer

Lazarus’ theory of emotion posits that in the presence of a stimulus, the individual creates a mental label, which then leads to the creation of emotional and physiological responses. 

Show question

Question

How does Lazarus' theory of emotion differ from Canon-Bard's and James-Lange's?  

Show answer

Answer

  • In Lazarus' theory of emotion, cognitive appraisal occurs before emotion. 
  • In Canon-Bard's and James-Lange's theory, emotion is based on physiological arousal. 
  • In James-Lange's theory, emotions come after physiological arousal. 
  • In Canon-Bard's theory, emotions occur at the same time as physiological arousal. 

Show question

Question

When was the Lazarus' theory of emotion proposed?  

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Answer

It was proposed in 1991 by Richard Lazarus.  

Show question

Question

What are the 3 elements of Lazarus' model of stress?  


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Answer

  1. Harm 
  2. Threat 
  3. Challenge 

Show question

Question

What are 3 theories of emotion?  

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Answer

  1. Lazarus' Theory of Emotion 
  2. James-Lange Theory 
  3. Canon-Bard Theory 

Show question

Question

What are the 4 components of Lazarus' theory of emotion? 

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Answer

In Lazarus' theory of emotion, four components are used to show the cycle of emotion. 

These four factors must occur in the sequence shown below:

  1. stimulus is introduced 
  2. The individual creates a cognitive appraisal of the stimuli 
  3. An emotional response is created based on the cognitive appraisal
  4. physiological response is formed based on the emotional response

Show question

Question

What is the 1st component of Lazarus' theory of emotion? 


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Answer

A stimulus is introduced

Show question

Question

What is the 2nd component of Lazarus' theory of emotion?  

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Answer

The individual creates a cognitive appraisal of the stimuli 

Show question

Question

What is the 3rd component of Lazarus' theory of emotion?   

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Answer

An emotional response is created based on the cognitive appraisal

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Question

What is the 4th component of Lazarus' theory of emotion?    

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Answer

A physiological response is formed based on the emotional response

Show question

Question

What are cognitive appraisals? 

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Answer

Cognitive appraisals are what a person thinks about the stimulus. 

Show question

Question

What theory did Lazarus use as a base for his theory of emotion? 

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Answer

Lazarus based his theory on Magda Arnold’s "Appraisal Theory of Emotion". 

Show question

Question

Give an example of Lazarus' theory of emotion? 

(Make your own or use the one from the explanation!)

Show answer

Answer

Annie is playing outside when she sees a snake hiding in the grass (stimulus). Annie sees that the snake is about 3 feet long and recognizes it as a threat (cognitive appraisal). Annie feels scared (emotional response) and her pulse starts to increase (physiological response).  

Show question

Question

What was the difference between Lazarus' theory of emotion and Arnold's theory of emotion? 

Show answer

Answer

While Arnold speculated that cognitive appraisals only signal the emotional and physiological responses to occur, Lazarus believed that cognitive appraisals determine the emotional and physiological responses.  

Show question

Question

When did Lazarus publish his experiments on cognitive appraisals and stress response? 

Show answer

Answer

1963

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Question

Who is Richard Lazarus? 

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Answer

  • An American psychologist 
  • Created the "Cognitive Mediational Theory of Emotion"

Show question

Question

What is the full and proper name for Lazarus' theory of emotion? 

Show answer

Answer

"Cognitive Mediational Theory of Emotion" 

Show question

Question

What is a stimulus? 

Show answer

Answer

A stimulus is any internal or external factor experienced by an individual.

Show question

Question

What are cognitive appraisals? 

Show answer

Answer

Cognitive appraisals are what a person thinks about the stimulus. 

Show question

Question

True or False: The Lazarus theory of emotion says that humans respond to experiences cognitively first, emotionally second, and physically last. 

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Answer

True 

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