Appraisal charts are a tool for analyzing experiences (event narratives) recorded in texts to investigate how and under what conditions attributions (post-hoc explanations) change over time. The charts are inspired by the work of the social cognitive psychologist Bertram F. Malle and are closely related to Event Model Analysis. When people explain why things happen, they generally draw upon two types of explanations: reasons and causes. Intentional agents have reasons for making something happen, while physical systems without agents are explained by impersonal causes. Where sources allow it, these charts offer historians a more rigorous basis for assessing the extent to which a narrative is based on real-time appraisals (nonconscious and conscious real-time “predictions” regarding what is happening) and/or on post-hoc input (interactions and other contextual factors) that reshape memory and/or the subject’s conscious interpretation of the event over time. Thus, an individual may predict that an agent is present at a subpersonal level (below the threshold of consciousness), may interpret the agent as a ghost in real-time when exploring a reportedly haunted house, and later discount the ghost explanation when reflecting on or recounting the event to others.
These charts are intended as tools for refining the analysis of event narratives and, where sufficient sources are available, to assess the plausibility of different historical interpretations of the subject’s interpretation of an experience event over time. Given the limitations of first person narratives as sources for analyzing the relationship between real-time and post-hoc appraisal processes, historians should couple their interpretations with estimates of confidence, grounded in the nature of the sources (see Asprem and Taves “Connecting Events,” in press; Taves and Harper 2016).
So far, the appraisal charts have been used to study the social and cognitive processes through which certain personal experiences have been crafted into “religious experiences.” Below you can find sample charts for some of these.
- Joseph Smith’s First Vision (A. Taves) [download file]
- Bill Wilson’s sudden experience (A. Taves) [download file]
- Aleister Crowley’s reception of The Book of the Law (E. Asprem) [download file]
References and Further Reading
Malle, Bertram F. 2004. How the Mind Explains Behavior: Folk Explanations, Meaning, and Social Interaction. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.
Taves, Ann. 2009. Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Taves, Ann and Steven C. Harper. 2016. Joseph Smith’s first vision: New methods for the analysis of experience-related texts. Mormon Studies Review 3: 53-84.
Taves, Ann. 2016. Revelatory Events. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.