NETWORK: Newsletter of the Society for Psychotherapy Research U.K. Volume 6(1):7-8 March 1995. ISSN 1359-3706

Mounted by Chris Evans in July 1995, as part of NETWORK 6(1) {3kb} mounted as individual file to help people with slow connections 8.ii.96

Frijda, N. H. (Ed.). (1993). Appraisal and beyond. The issue of cognitive determinants of emotion. A special issue of Cognition and Emotion. Hove, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

This is a fascinating book. I have misgivings about aspects of cognitive therapies, particularly when they are advocated as the only psychotherapy for all sorts of problems, also when their practice sounds like a patronising re-education of faulty thinking without insight into the likely faults in the therapist's own thinking. I decided to read this book to challenge some of my prejudices. The book is a double issue of Cognition and Emotion. The original page numbering remains so the 168 pages run from 225 to 392. There is a clear introduction from Frijda explaining the basic idea that cognitive appraisal intervenes between experience (perception) and emotion. The other papers flow in a sensible sequence to a summary by Frijda.

The first paper is from Smith and Lazarus and is a typical example of experimental work in this area: subjects were given simple vignettes of experiences and asked about their appraisals and about their emotions. Then the vignettewas elaborated a little to intensify or change the emotion (according to appraisal theories anyway) and similar questions repeated. They report data largely congruent with their theoretical model although they note that the sadness vignettes showed markedly less good fit than those for anger, guilt and fear/anxiety. They suggest a post hoc explanation for the poor fit in terms of social pressures censoring anger toward dying people. That's plausible but typical of the way, it seemed to this reader, in which there can be rather too much flexibility left about what is, and what isn't, in the basic model.

The second chapter by Reisenzein & Hofmann addresses very honestly and directly the problems of evaluating partial fit between theory and data. R&H show great thoroughness in sorting and matching techniques to show quite high conformity between reported emotions and their own model. The methods here are worth reading for anyone interested in researching how therapists may simplify case summaries.

The next chapter, by Parkinson & Manstead, is a trenchant, if rather repetitive, criticism of the methods used to develop appraisal theory. They argue that the data analysed are secondary reports, in relation to artificial, hypothesized situations or else recalled events. They suggest that the results tell us about the semantics and logics by which we use language to describe emotions and to rationalise them, but actually tells us little or nothing about "real-time" emotion (the use of computer/electronic media language through this paper intrigued me, it seemed to reflect a faith in an artificial intelligence model, but perhaps also a model in which the generally manipulated and controlled presentation of life experience was being acknowledged). They argue that the interpersonal and social, the interactive sequential, and the instrumental aspects of experience and emotion are ignored by existing cognitive appraisal models and their research methods. They see this as akin to nuclear physicists studying the lichen on the outside of a synchrotron rather than looking to see what happens inside it. Their last point about instrumentality links with their use of media words and seemed to locate their criticism within the "speech acts" school of discourse analysis. In this paradigm, interpersonal experience is offered to us by others to achieve things just as our responses, right down to our emotional responses, are also aimed at eliciting responses: such is seen to be the nature of social life and within it there are only repetitive patterns and structures of discourse, there are none of the rules or models the natural science paradigm implies, then seeks to find. P&M never go quite this far in their overt criticism of appraisal work, but I felt that extreme scepticism about the use of natural science methods in the human sciences was implicit. I think I have much to learn about how to repeatedly criticise a set of researchers while still getting published by them! My respect for cognitive theorists such as Frijda was immeasurably increased by finding this paper here.

The penultimate paper by Scherer offers data from a computer program. The program takes as input respondents' answers to 15 questions which tap the components of Scherer's model of cognitive appraisal. The questions are asked about a recalled situation in which the respondent had an emotion. The answers are used to calculate similarity between these answers answers predicted on the basis of his model for 14 emotions. The closest match is suggested by the program and then the second closest, these are compared with the emotions the respondent reported. The fit was generally quite good and the method is interesting and clearly potentially valuable for us exploring why therapists think they did/do things. However, here again I'd side with Parkinson & Manstead and argue that the questions are so far from my experiences of experiencing that I find it hard to see them as good handles on the real processes involved in feeling.

In the final paper by Frijda, a founder of the cognitive appraisal model, he too argues that its research methods have told us about the cognitive elaboration of emotion for verbal communication, not about "cognitive antecedents". He argues, plausibly, but essentially without data, that the truly antecedent cognitive appraisals are probably very simple, much more than current models would suggest. He appears also to say that emotional experiencing may be a parallel process to cognitive appraisal, though both processes might interact in their very high speed development. He also appears to say that emotions may sometimes be no more, nor less, than summary markers of a set of appraisals and response tendencies. He does report some data on self-reports of guilt and of shame which seem to blow huge holes in appraisal models. One problem is that people often report guilt about events without reporting they caused the event thus contradicting predictions of appraisal theories. One remembered event was from an adult woman who continued to feel guilty about not having said goodbye to her father, despite her mother's admonishment, when leaving for school one morning. The father had died suddenly and unexpectedly during the day. The father had sexually abused her. I can see that one might want to construe that as a piece of faulty learnt connection between experience and emotion and tell her, caringly and perhaps creatively, some ways to unlearn that. I can also see and respect Frijda's quite separate misgivings about what, if anything, her story tells us about the process by which guilt, or any other emotion, is experienced by her as a generic process of appraisal. However, I was left feeling that these clinical and research models will both fail to take on board the complexity of uniqueness and of membership of a social species in her story.

If you want a sample of how thorough the methods and the intellectual criticism can be in cognitive research into emotions then you may want to read this book. Sadly, this thoroughness and scepticism seem to me to be as far from the reports of cognitive therapy I read, as the best psychoanalytic theory and clinical papers are from purportedly psychodynamic psychotherapy research: the gaps between theories and research methods and clinical practices are different and the splits different as you would expect from differences between cognitive and psychoanalytic theories. However, there are big gaps and they don't look likely to disappear.

Chris Evans