From Our Resiliency Blog Series: The Science & Spirit Of Resiliency: Building A Stronger You (Full list of 8 blogs)
This next positive psychology (PP) blog in our series on resilience, delves into the cognitive approaches to life events through the lens of appraisal theory and their impact on our well-being and resilience ability.
Each of us interpret events based on our appraisals, leading to a wide range of emotional responses.
Appraisal theory indicates that emotions arise from how events are assessed, rather than the events themselves.
Different appraisals of the same event can lead to diverse emotions, and emotions can evolve as appraisals change over time. Similar appraisal sequences trigger similar emotions, suggesting that emotions stem from interpretations rather than event nature.
People’s interpretations of life events vary widely. The same stressor might spur person A to view it as a challenge, while person B perceives it as a threat. Similarly, a positive event could be deemed a mere coincidence by one individual, while another sees it as a result of their actions.
Personal Life Example: Connect your life event beliefs to your reflections on your life’s conditions:
What beliefs do you hold regarding good and bad conditions?
Do bad conditions signify a temporary phase, or a prolonged one for you?
Do you view bad conditions as a chance to hone your skills, or as an endangering threat?
Are good condition instances seen as rare, or likely to frequent your journey in life?
According to cognitive appraisal theory – emotions stem from interpretations (appraisals) of events rather than the events themselves.
When an event occurs, individuals tend to assess its significance as follows:
Your appraisals hinge on your:
Divergent emotions can arise from the same event as people appraise it differently. Consider a romantic relationship’s end. Person A views it as a significant loss, evoking sadness. Person B, perceiving responsibility, experiences guilt. Person C sees an opportunity to explore new partners, yielding relief.
These instances highlight that emotions result from appraisals, not events.
Emotional experiences evolve in cycle with shifts in event appraisal: As appraisals accumulate, emotional experiences grow in intricacy:
Appraisal theory further anticipates that events with akin appraisal sequences trigger similar emotions.
Emotions, in this view, stem from interpretation rather than the event’s nature. Thus, distinct scenarios interpreted identically are apt to generate the same emotion. For instance, being terminated, excluded from an event, and passed over for promotion, all deemed unfair, are liable to evoke the same sentiment—anger.
This next part delves into appraisal styles associated with fostering resilience in the face of adversity.
Appraisal theory plays a crucial role in understanding resilience, as it involves interpreting events to mitigate threats.
Appraisal theory underpins resilience, the capacity to rebound from adversity. The ability to cognitively re-appraise stressful experiences as less threatening is essential to deal with them in a resilient way.
Different appraisal techniques are explored from PP literature, including:
1 – Challenge appraisal – focuses on viewing events as manageable and offering growth opportunities.
2 – Benefit-finding – involves recognizing positive outcomes in stressors, contributing to increased resilience.
3 – Optimistic explanatory style – examines how individuals attribute causes to events, influencing their perspectives on positive and negative occurrences.
Research links these styles to resilience in various contexts, emphasizing their role in enhancing adaptive coping strategies.
Next, I detail these appraisal techniques linked to enhancing resilience.
In stress and coping research, two crucial types of appraisals are spotlighted: threat and challenge.
When an event is seen as a threat, it’s perceived as surpassing one’s capability to handle, implying inability to manage the perceived danger.
Conversely, in challenge appraisal, events are regarded as manageable with available resources, even offering potential gains or harm avoidance.
Many PP studies consistently reveal a connection between challenge/threat appraisal and resilience, highlighting appraisal’s impact on stressful events and the potential to alter appraisal.
Personal Life Example – Appraising an event as a challenge resembles you confidently navigating rough times, anticipating growth. You foresee skill enhancement and journey enrichment. In contrast, perceiving an event as a threat mirrors doubt of competence to navigate turbulent conditions.
Another appraisal form recurrently linked to resilience is benefit-finding, considered a selective evaluation, by focusing on beneficial qualities of a situation.
Benefit-finding entails you appraising past stress through positive outcomes, like learning lessons on self-care or recognizing personal strength.
It helps restore a sense of self-worth and a relatively secure world. Importantly, it doesn’t entail an exclusively positive view of the past event; rather, it incorporates both positive and negative aspects.
PP Research consistently highlights positive long-term impacts of benefit-finding in adversity. Some experience heightened self-appreciation, resilience, purpose, spirituality, closer relationships, and changed life priorities. Others note stronger relationships, increased compassion, and altruism.
Personal Life Example: Benefit-finding appraises past stressful events for positive outcomes, akin to you recognizing gains from a tough part of life’s journey. This doesn’t mean solely viewing the past as beneficial; rather, both upsides and downsides are acknowledged.
Generating positive reflections on stressors is key.
Questions like “How has this experience changed me?” encourage recognizing event benefits.
However, certain guidelines should be noted: this technique is most effective with events distant enough to reflect on personal growth or relationships. Recent events may still evoke intense negative emotions, making benefit-finding challenging. Though most studies support benefits, research on some medical conditions has shown mixed outcomes.
How you attribute event causes – significantly shapes your appraisal.
Explanatory style involves your habitual explanations for good and bad events.
It succinctly addresses “Why did this event occur?” with three key dimensions:
1 – Permanence
2 – Pervasiveness, and
3 – Personalization.
Optimistic and pessimistic individuals adopt distinct explanatory styles for positive and negative events
In positive situations, optimists attribute causes to lasting, widespread, and internal factors. For instance, if they are hired for a job they applied for, an internal attribution might relate to their intelligence and skills. If this attribution is lasting, it suggests a consistent quality over time, while universality implies its relevance in various situations.
Conversely, pessimists attribute positive events to temporary, specific, and external factors. In the same job scenario, they might credit external factors like fewer applicants (external attribution). The cause’s duration is considered short-lived (temporary attribution), tied to a specific skill needed for that job (specific attribution).
Optimists view challenges as temporary hurdles to overcome.
In summary, optimists attribute negative events – temporarily, specifically, and externally. For instance, if they aren’t hired for a job, an optimist might link it to lacking certain skills for the role (external attribution). They’d also hold hope for other job prospects (temporary attribution) and see the situation as related to specific job requirements (specific attribution).
Conversely, pessimists attribute negative events to lasting, universal, and internal factors. For example, in the job scenario, a pessimist might attribute the failure to their own intelligence (internal attribution), foreseeing this as a constant issue (permanent attribution), and extending it to various situations (permanent attribution). This mindset can lead to learned helplessness.
PP research indicates optimism links to heightened resilience, including outweighing trauma’s predictive power.
Constructive optimism involves nurturing a realistic positive outlook – optimism grounded in reality.
Negative events occasionally arise from personal oversights, and overly optimistic views – attributing these to external factors, can undermine accountability. Conversely, impractical optimism can blind one to potential pitfalls in decisions. Consider someone overly enthusiastic about a project, ignoring feasibility and facing failure. So extreme optimism can lead to overlooking risks and harmful risk-taking.
Personal Life Example: An optimistic explanatory style resembles you moving through tough conditions with a hopeful perspective. You view harsh conditions as fleeting (permanence), affecting only a specific part of your journey (pervasiveness), and beyond personal control (personalization).
In contrast, a pessimistic style leads to the anticipation of prolonged bad conditions (permanence), interpreting it as indicative of the entire journey (pervasiveness), and placing blame on oneself.
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Until next blog, stay resilient and keep learning!
Written by Cynthia Aisha Meguid
Well-Being – Author, Educator, Consultant & Coach