Emotions result from cognitive interpretations (cognitive appraisals) of situations.
Cognitive appraisal theories represent a dominant force in emotion research in cognitive psychology. A number of researchers have developed variations on the basic theme of cognitive appraisal theories and the primacy of cognition, including Lazarus (1991; 1984), Ortony and colleagues (1988), Frijda (1986), Scherer (1984), Mandler (1984). The underlying thesis of the cognitive appraisal theories is as follows. Emotional responses represent undifferentiated physiological states and cognition is therefore necessary to provide an interpretation which a) provides the basis for the conscious experience of a particular emotion, and b) can be used by the organism in an adaptive manner to initiate or alter a particular behavior. Cognition is necessary to disambiguate the vague emotional states and cognitive constructs such as perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, and goals are brought to bear on this process. The sequence of events involved in an emotional response is thought to be as follows. A stimulus is detected, causing a state of bodily arousal, which in turn is interpreted by the cognitive apparatus to generate an appraisal, which takes into account the organism's goals, plans, and beliefs. This appraisal has certain physiological consequences (e.g., autonomous system reactions), which in turn have dispositional consequence (e.g., motivation for particular behavior) (Frijda, 1986). Within the general framework acknowledging the centrality of cognition in the emotional experience, different researchers make distinctions among the cognitive processes involved. Thus Lazarus distinguishes between conscious and "primitive evaluative" processes (1991), and between knowledge and appraisal. Such subtle distinctions provide the basis for a synthesis of these theories with recent findings from neurophysiology.
See: Computational research.