Relationships of cognitive appraisal
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Cognitive appraisal is a pivotal construct that has been identified in determining the stress response and coping response. Researchers have shown specific physiological outcomes of initial cognitive appraisals that are taken more as a threat or a challenge. Cognitive appraisal is known to fluctuate, but little is known about what influences these cognitive re-appraisals. While it has been theorized that changes in physiological arousal might impact cognitive re-appraisals, there is little support for this return pathway. Performance with the stressor has however been indicated as impacting cognitive reappraisals. The studies presented here tested the relationships between cognitive appraisal, cognitive re-appraisal, coping response, performance measures, and changes in physiology. A computerized digit-symbol reaction time task presented to participants as "an IQ test" yielded performance measures, while heart rate and mean arterial blood pressure were recorded, as were measures of participants' cognitive appraisal of the stressor. Participants were both male and female undergraduates with 28 in the first study and 71 in the second study. Results from both studies indicate that the initial cognitive appraisal predicted the coping response as self-reported after the task. Initial cognitive appraisal also predicted more than a third of the variance observed in cognitive re-appraisal. The performance measure, percent correct, predicted an additional 15% of the variance. Neither heart rate nor mean arterial pressure was found to influence the cognitive re-appraisal at the end of the task. The second study also had a subjective performance measure and another cognitive re-appraisal after three minutes of rest. Tests indicated that the subjective percent correct predicted over 15% of the variance of cognitive re-appraisal, subsuming the objective measure of percent correct. The second study also found only one physiological measure, the stress response’s mean arterial pressure, predicted 4% of the variance of the latter cognitive re-appraisal. Results identify the initial appraisal of, and the perception of performance with a stressful task as the primary targets for interventions promoting more effective coping and positive emotions. Future research is discussed that can address the limitations of these studies and investigate other environmental and personal factors that may influence cognitive appraisals.