There is no single overarching theory to explain how emotion and stress affect, and are affected by, team cognition. Rather, an integrative multitheoretic approach is necessary to study these problems and generate actionable findings. Theories of how emotion and stress influence individual cognition are an appropriate starting point. However, these must be addressed alongside theories of how multiple individuals work together, and distinctions must be drawn between conceptualizations of emotion and stress at the individual and team levels.
Emotion, Stress, and Individual Cognition
Until fairly recently, emotions and stress have been considered separate fields of study (Lazarus, 2006). Stress was (and still is) a substantial concern to many fields of study, both experimental and applied, whereas study of emotions has been more of an abstract puzzle with uncertain practical applications. Multiple vectors of research intersect the phenomena related to teams working under stress. Stress is an ongoing process between an individual and his or her environment that has multiple interacting psychological and physiological results, including changes in emotional state, cognitive ability, and physical performance. Complicating matters is the vague and overlapping usage of concepts like stress, stressor, emotion, and mood. Some studies refer to emotional stress or stressful moods (e.g., Mikolajczak, Roy, Verstrynge, & Luminet, 2009; Sheppard-Sawyer, McNally, & Fischer, 2000). A careful review of emotion- and stress-related research helps disambiguate the terminology and avoid confounding them in experimental or applied research. Without clearly understanding these cognitive factors, researchers are likely to misattribute causes to effects, which can lead to ineffective interventions when applying such findings to real-world problems.
The literature presents emotion and stress as having complex relationships with each other. Lazarus (2006, p. 36) argues that “we cannot sensibly treat stress and emotion as if they were separate fields without doing a great disservice to both.” It is true that the literature on the relationship between stress and cognition shows many similarities with the literature on emotion and cognition. In some cases, when looking at the manipulations and measures used in both areas of research, one may suspect that emotion researchers and stress researchers are examining similar phenomena but choosing different terminology to describe it. For example, Bootzin and Max (1981) explain that while theorists disagree over the causes of anxiety, there is general agreement over the constitution of the anxiety response, which happens to be a list of verbal reports, behaviors, and physiological responses very similar to those attributed to stress. Moreover, in Mogg et al. (1990), the authors admit that it is unclear whether their manipulation (difficult task with false negative feedback or easy task with false positive feedback) was truly a manipulation of mood, stress, anxiety, or performance feedback. They chose stress as the most all-encompassing term, though the desired outcome of the manipulation was actually anxiety—a mood state. Furthermore, some conceptual frameworks of stress show stress leading to negative emotions, which in turn causes multiple physiological and psychological outcomes, though some also describe a direct effect of stress in addition to one mediated by a negative affect (Aldwin, 1994).
In organizational stress research, emotions are included among the individual differences in reacting to stress, and generally with very negative connotations: “When emotions are directly involved in action, they tend to overwhelm or subvert rational mental processes, not to supplement them” (Elster, 1985, p. 379). Dysfunctional reasoning is blamed on emotional stress (Leung, Chan, & Yu, 2012). This perspective holds that stress may be inescapable in high-stakes circumstances, but emotions (positive and negative ones) are something to be avoided at all costs. However, many researchers have shown this broad generalization to be untrue.
Some research has shown stress and emotions to be conceptually distinct and independent of each other, at least to some degree. One can feel happy or sad, but not stressed; one could be stressed and feel exhilarated, depressed, or neither. Many studies have shown how people may experience both positive and negative moods in the presence of stress (Lazarus, 2003). For example, observations of caregivers of terminal patients demonstrated that a small positive event amid a majority of negative events can prompt a positive affective response despite ongoing stress (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000). This shows that positive moods may coexist with stressful conditions and such positive responses have a meaningful coping function.
Lazarus and Folkman (1984) emphasized the primacy of the cognitive process of appraisal preceding any reaction to stress, emotional or otherwise. Zajonc (1984), on the other hand, responded that the emotional reaction precedes cognitive processing of the threat, and these two reactions may sometimes be in conflict with each other. Sun and Zhang’s (2006) model of individuals interacting with objects suggests that both are right. Their model proposes that while traits are positioned as the launching point for determining interaction, neither emotional nor cognitive reactions are given precedence in determining how the individual intends to act. In fact, these reactions influence each other, a position that aligns with the parallel-processing view that cognition and emotion are both interactive information-processing systems (Norman, Ortony, & Russell, 2003). Minsky integrates emotion and cognition even further with the position that each emotional state corresponds to a different manner of cognition (Minsky, 2006).
Classical views of decision making maintain that emotions and stress derail otherwise optimal rationalistic thought. Poor decisions are frequently criticized for having been made with emotion rather than reason (Hammond, 2000). However, contemporary views of naturalistic decision making are interested in how severely stressed decision makers can perform as well as they do in spite of a demonstrable departure from rationalistic decision processes. It appears that the challenges posed by stressors (such as noise, pain, or time pressure) to attention, memory, and information gathering are more disruptive to the slow structured decision processes than to fast recognition-primed naturalistic decision processes (Klein, 1998).
The complex effects of stress on individuals—particularly the individual differences in the appraisal of stressors—amplify the need to better understand the similarities, differences, and interactions between stress and emotion in collaborative task settings. From a CSE perspective, it is essential to understand how stress and emotion not only change how individuals perform tasks, but also change how they communicate and collaborate to perform tasks together. The perspectives regarding individual stress, mood, and cognitive performance detailed above may imply several effects relevant to the conditions individuals encounter in team’s problemsolving contexts. However, they do not specifically explain how individual moods or reactions to stress will impact team cognition and the outcome of team-based activities.