Lazarus’ Cognitive Mediation Theory


Cognitive Mediation theory

Cognitive mediation theory proposed by American psychologist Richard Lazarus (1922-2002). Richard Lazarus attempts to explain how cognition, stress, and emotion interrelate to one another through the cognitive mediational theory of emotion. His theory focuses on the role of what he called “appraisal”.

Appraisal is the tendency of the human mind to make automatic and unconscious assessments of not only a situation but also what that situation means to them.

It is the hypothesis that stimuli affects behavior indirectly through an intervening process, as opposed to a simpler stimulus–response model. For example, cognitive therapists maintain that the individual’s thoughts and perceptions of that event influencing the effect an external event has on an individual.

If the dog is behind a sturdy fence, the appraisal would be something like “no threat”. The most likely emotion would be annoyance, and the physical arousal would be minimal. If we don’t restrict the dog, the appraisal would more likely be “danger-threatening anima!” followed by an increase in arousal and the emotional experience of fear.

Reason Some People Respond Differently to Stimuli- Lazarus Cognitive mediation theory.

According to Lazarus, the physiological reactions that an external stimulus can cause is based on the personal meaning that the individual has to it. For some people, the sound of a gunshot is an immediate emergency. This creates feelings of fear because there is an imminent to protect one’s life. This leads to rapid heart rate, the adrenaline surge, and other physical reactions that are associated with the feelings being experienced.

For others, the sound of a gunshot in their personal experience is a stimulus which means other people require help. Instead of feeling fear, they feel motivation. They might experience a heightened awareness of their environment, looking for people in need who might require a helping hand. Instead of running away or hiding from the sound, they begin to run towards it because that is what their personal experiences dictates.

Appraisal in a Situation

Richard Lazarus proposed that every person goes through a 5-step process whenever they encounter a stressful trigger. Although the mind would be reacting through the emotions of the moment, each person would also be using a perception filter in order to create a meaningful appraisal of what is happening and what should be done.

 5 stages of the cognitive mediational theory

  • Primary Appraisal
  • Secondary Appraisal
  • Stress
  • Coping Skills
  • Reappraisal

Primary Appraisal

In this stage, an individual encounters a stimulus and analyzes it. This situation can either be positive, dangerous, or irrelevant. Positive and irrelevant stimuli immediately end the encountered stages of emotion. If a stimulus is appraised as being dangerous, then it will be analyzed to see if it is a challenge, a threat, and if harm might occur.

Secondary Appraisal

If a situation is considered to be dangerous, an individual determines if they have enough resources to deal with the situation. However, if there are enough resources, this will end the progressive stages of emotion. If there are insufficient resources, then an individual will progress to the next stage.


A lack of resources creates stress. This trigger then creates an emotional response that creates physiological symptoms. A person will remain at this stage until they are willing or able to begin working towards overcoming the stress they are experiencing.

Coping Skills

There are two methods of coping that an individual can use to deal with stress. Problem-focused coping looks to change the situation, so if the person hears a gunshot , the person could run away from that environment so they can be someplace safer. Emotionally-focused coping will look to change the relation to the experienced situation. A person might calm down if they realize the gunshot sounded because they are close to a shooting range.


Once stress has been removed, an individual will then reappraise their current situation. If it is still dangerous, then these stages will repeat themselves. If not, then the individual learns from the event so that the reactions can be more efficient in the future.


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