ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (12): 2825-2845.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02825

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Applications of cognitive appraisal theory of stress in managerial psychology research: Scenes, methods, and myths

JIANG Fubin, WANG Zhen()   

  1. Business School, Central University of Finance and Economics, Beijing 100081, China
  • Received:2022-01-04 Online:2022-12-15 Published:2022-09-23
  • Contact: WANG Zhen


Stressors are everywhere in the workplace. How do individuals respond to stressors? The cognitive appraisal theory of stress provides an integrated framework for explaining this question from the perspective of cognitive appraisal and coping. This theory has become the mainstream framework for describing individuals’ reactions to stressors during the past 40 years. However, because the theory did not provide the precise relationship among theoretical elements, empirical research applied the theory quite differently, resulting in various and even inadequate applications.
We conduct this study to present the application and development of the cognitive appraisal theory of stress. 125 empirical studies in the field of managerial psychology were systematically reviewed to identify the scenarios, methods, and myths in applying the theory. The results showed that, (1) The cognitive appraisal theory of stress explains “what is cognitive appraisal?” “what factors influence cognitive appraisal?” “how individuals cope with stressors?” and “what are the consequences of stressors?”. Questionnaires are often used to collect data of theoretical elements. (2) The cognitive appraisal theory of stress can explain the impacts of six categories of stressors (physical stressors, task-related stressors, role stressors, social stressors, career-related stressors, and traumatic events) on employees’ work attitude, behavior, health, and work-family relationship. (3) The application of this theory can be considered from aspects of primary appraisal, secondary appraisal, and coping. There are two perspectives to analyze the application of primary appraisal - outcome-perspective and process-perspective. Both individual and situational factors can affect individuals’ primary appraisals of stressors. Secondary appraisal involves individuals’ appraisal of their own coping potential, and its influencing factors can be divided into individual and situational aspects, too. Coping refers to individuals’ cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage internal or external demands exceed their own resources, which contains problem-focused and emotion-focused forms of coping. (4) There are myths in using this theory among existing empirical research. For example, some studies hold the views that stressors always lead to negative consequences, certain stressors lead to certain cognitive appraisals, certain cognitive appraisals lead to certain coping styles, and problem-focused forms of coping are more effective than emotion-focused forms of coping.
This study has several significant implications. First, we present the core ideas of the cognitive appraisal theory of stress and the measurements of theoretical elements. More importantly, we clarify some controversies about this theory, which contributes to the correct application and future development of the theory. Second, we integrate the application scenes and methods of the theory in managerial psychology research. By doing so, we broaden current understandings of this theory and then, shed light on theoretical application. Third, the myths about theoretical application are clarified. Based on this, we provide some suggestions for future research in applying this theory, which are beneficial to theoretical development and further applications. Moreover, it is important for future research to optimize the measurement of the core theoretical construct, expand the application scenarios of the theory, and enrich the influencing factors of the cognitive evaluation process.

Key words: cognitive appraisal theory of stress, transactional model of stress, primary appraisal, secondary appraisal

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