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So when someone experiences an emotion, there is an adaptation taking place (at least if the circumstance is somewhat new). They have to process if this emotion is harmful or beneficial, and they respond to each in the appropriate fashion. People can learn each time they have an emotional response. The way their emotions respond to something each time changes. Not just in terms of if it is beneficial or harmful, but perhaps if it is cool or exciting. Though I would think that pain and pleasure (or beneficial or harmful) would be the dominant things by which people respond to, seeing as everything - even when it includes other complicated elements (such as other emotions or attitudes) - is dominated by our response of it is beneficial or harmful.

The existing appraisal models generally include some sort of evaluation of how important or relevant the stimulus situation is to the person, whether it is desirable or undesirable, whether and to what degree the person is able to cope with the situation, and who or what caused or is responsible for the situation (and thus toward what or whom one's coping efforts should be directed). Different patterns of outcomes along such dimensions are hypothesized to result in the experience of different emotions. Moreover, the specific pattern of appraisal hypothesized to result in the experience of a given emotion is conceptually closely linked to the functions proposed to be served by that emotion. To illustrate how these models are organized in this way, I draw on the model of Smith + Lazarus Smith, C. A., + Lazarus, R. S. (1990). Emotion and adaptation. IN L. A. Pervin (Ed.) Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 609-637). New York: Guilford Press. .

According to this model, situations are evaluated along seven dimensions: motivational relevance, motivational congruence, problem-focused coping potential, emotion-focused coping potential, self-accountability, other accountability, and future expectancy. Motivational relevance involves an evaluation of how important the situation is to the person; motivational is a key part of the term, however, in that importance is appraised in a subjective, relational sense, evaluating the relevance of what is happening in the situation to the individual's goals and motivations. Motivational congruence is an appraisal of the extent to which the situation is in line with current goals, which again is relational - to the extent to which the circumstances are appraised as being consistent with one's goals, they are appraised as highly congruent or desirable, whereas to the extent to which they are appraised as inconsistent with those goals, they are appraised as incongruent of undesirable. Problem-focused coping potential is an assessment of the individual's ability to act on the situation to increase or maintain its desirability. In contrast, emotion-focused coping potential evaluates the ability to psychologically adjust to and deal with the situation should it turn out not to be as desired. Self-accountability is an assessment of the degree to which an individual sees her/himself as responsible for the situation, whereas other accountability is the extent to which the individual views someone or something else as responsible. Finally, future expectancy involves an evaluation of the degree to which, for any reason, the person expects the circumstances to become more or less desirable. According to the model, different patterns of outcomes along these dimensions (having different adaptational implications) result in the experience of different emotions (serving different adaptations functions). Thus, these appraisal dimensions are held to be responsible for the differentiation of emotional experience.

So, in other words, people care about the emotions they experience and therefore they are constantly evaluating if these emotions line up with the goals and motivations that they have. They evaluate who is responsible for the emotions and the situation they have, if the situation is going to get better, if they can do anything about it, etc. People make these types of decisions and think about these things all of the time - whether they are aware of it or not.

Reference

Affective and Cognitive appraisal processes. Craig Smith. Leslie Kirby. In Handbook of Affect and Social Cognition. Psychology Press; Reprint edition (November 3, 2001)

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Source:  OpenStax, Emotion, cognition, and social interaction - information from psychology and new ideas topics self help. OpenStax CNX. Jul 11, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col10403/1.71
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