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Appraisal theory and social appraisals: how an event's social context triggers emotions

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Appraisal theory (e.g., Arnold, 1960; Frijda, 1986; Lazarus, 1991; Scherer, 1984a) describes the cognitive process by which individuals evaluate environmental stimuli relevant for individual well-being and trigger emotions that ready the body for action. Manstead and Fischer (2001) recently argued that individuals also make social appraisals that take into account the thoughts, feelings, and actions of other persons in response to an emotional situation. Similarly, the authors consider appraisals that take into account the social context of which the individual is a part. From research in psychology and anthropology, three social appraisals emerge in addition to the individual appraisal of situations: Status Seeking, Reciprocity Striving, and Group Identity Seeking. The authors' hypotheses address emotions that these social appraisals should trigger. They submit that individuals should experience emotional responses to the social context of interactions in addition to stimuli that affect them as individuals only. In an experiment that measures emotional responses in scenarios of social situations, they find support for social appraisals. The status seeking condition shows that status signals can trigger pride, and withholding them triggers negative emotions. The reciprocity condition shows that violating expectations of mutual fairness and returning favors triggers anger. The group identity seeking condition suggests that events that happen not only to ourselves, but also to peers, influence our emotions, provided there exists a sense of identity with the group. In the workplace, emotions can act as strong motivators that can influence how productive people are. Thus, understanding social appraisals offers managers an additional dimension of managing groups.

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