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Relationships Among Stress Coping, Secure Attachment, and the Trait of Resilience Among Taiwanese College Students

June 3, 2008

By Li, Ming-hui

College students often live stressful lives, yet some college students appear to adapt better than their peers in similar situations. Active coping appears to be a vital factor that contributes to a successful adaptation. This study explored relative effectiveness among stress, secure attachment, and the trait of resilience in predicting active coping in high, general, and low stress situations. General stress situations are referred to as a combination of high and low stress situations. Multiple regression were applied to explore effective predictors of active coping. Whereas stress was not significantly correlated with active coping, the trait of resilience was the most effective predictor of active coping in high, general, and low stress situations. Secure attachment was an effective predictor of active coping in general situations but not in high or low stressful situations. Two-way ANOVA was applied to detect interaction effect of stress and the trait of resilience on active coping. No interaction effect of stress and resilience on active coping was found. Findings suggest that counselors can help college students to actively cope with stressful situations by enhancing more students’ resilience than their secure attachment, regardless of students’ stress levels. College life is composed of different stressful situations. Studies have shown that stressful situations college students are likely to encounter are related to academics, relationships, or work (Baldwin, Chambliss, & Towler, 2003; Dungan, 2002; Kariv & Heiman, 2005; Rao, 2000; Shiraishi, 2000). While some college students appear to adapt well to stressful situations, some others may become vulnerable to similar situations. To help individuals adapt well to stressful situations (resilience outcome), researchers have explored the process by which resilience develops (Garmezy, Masten, & Tellegen, 1984; Kumpfer, 1999; Rutter, 1987; Wyman, Sandier, Wolchik, & Nelson, 2000). An emerging perspective about the development of resilience is that individuals’ ability to bounce back from stressful situations is developed in the process of coping with day- to-day developmentally appropriate stressful situations (Brown, 2004; Kumpfer, 1999; Masten, 2001 ; Spencer et al., 2006; Wyman et al., 2000). Active coping seems to play a significant role in the process of developing resilience (Kumpfer). The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of stress, secure attachment, and trait of resilience in influencing Taiwanese college students to actively cope with stressful situations.

Active Coping in the Interaction between Stressful Situations and Adaptation

Researchers have indicated that coping played a significant role in the interaction between stressful situations and adaptations (Rutter & Rutter, 2002). An instance of successful coping may lead to continued successful coping and then to adaptation (Garvie, 1997). The adaptation may then go through an integration process and enhance an individual’s existing resilience (Kumpfer, 1999). In the literature relating to resilience, studies show that resilient individuals tend to use active coping strategies such as changing environments or planning activities, to manage stressful situations (CampbellSills, Cohan, & Stein, 2006; Yi, Smith, & Vitaliano, 2005). Active coping can be behavioral or cognitive. For example, students with a fear of failing a test may seek guidance (behavior coping) or reframe the meaning of failing a test (cognitive coping). Although active coping is not equal to successful coping, researchers have proposed that, in general, individuals using active coping strategies are likely to adapt better to stress and present fewer psychological distress (Desmond & MacLachlan, 2006).

Predictors of Active Coping

Active coping in this study is defined as people’s coping strategies that are characterized by solving problems, seeking social support, and attempting to alter stressful situations. Coping has been seen as either a trait or as a process under stressful situations; hence personality traits and stress have been extensively researched in terms of their influences on coping strategies (Baldwin et al., 2003; Fernander, 2005; Hu et al., 2002; Lowe, 2003; Sorlie & Sexton, 2001). However, little attention has been paid to the combined effect of stress, secure attachment, and the trait of resilience on active coping. An exploration of the relationships among these four variables may provide information for counselors to help their college students clients actively cope with stressful situations. For example, study findings may help counselors to decide if they want to (a) focus on enhancing clients’ ability to positively interact with people or (b) concentrate on helping clients integrate their past coping experiences while clients are in highly stressful situations.

Stress in this study refers to “events or conditions that demand adjustments beyond the normal wear and tear of daily living” (Gadzella, 1994, p. 396). Stress may be related to indications of maladjustment such as alcoholism, and poor academic performance (Stotland, 2001) but stress can also urge individuals to develop new adaptive skills or new coping strategies (Holahan, Moos, & Schaefer, 1996).

Secure attachment in the study refers to a cognitive schema that guides individuals to believe it is relatively easy to form close relationships with others and to feel at ease in relying on others (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). secure attachment is a trait that leads individuals to form positive perceptions about themselves and the world (Bowlby, 1969). In 1999, Lazarus indicated that individuals’ beliefs about self and the world may influence coping strategies. Although the effect of secure attachment on active coping seems to be clear, the extent to which it influences active coping has not been well explored. This study addressed this issue.

The trait of resilience in this study is defined as “personality characteristic that moderates the negative effects of stress and promotes adaptation” (Wagnild & Young, 1993, p. 165). Earlier researchers such as Kobasa (1987) regarded the trait of resilience as a natural, from-birth character and called it hardy personality. Children who held the personality were once considered invincible ones. In contrast, more recent researchers (Brown, 2004; Masten, 2001; Spencer et al., 2006; Wyman et al., 2000) posited that resilience is developed in the process of coping with day-to-day developmentally appropriate stressful situations. They implied that the trait of resilience can be considered the outcome of the process of adapting to stressful situations.

As mentioned earlier, previous studies showed that resilient individuals tend to use active coping. These studies implied that the trait of resilience leads people to actively cope with stressful situations. This study examined this hypothesis by exploring the extent to which resilience can lead people to cope actively. In addition, the study explored whether the trait of resilience is independent from stress in influencing active coping?

Conceptual Model

This study explored the predictive relationships among stress, secure attachment, the trait of resilience, and active coping in three different stressful situations: high, general, and low stress situations. General situations are referred to as a combination of high and low stress situations. In each situation, stress, secure attachment, and the trait of resilience were applied to predict active coping. Also, the interaction effect of stress and resilience on active coping was investigated. Based on the conceptual framework, the following hypotheses were formulated and tested:

Hypothesis 1: There is a significant relationship between active coping and a linear combination of stress, resilience, and secure attachment, among college students.

Hypothesis 2: For college students with high stress levels, there is a significant relationship between active coping and a linear combination of stress, resilience, and secure attachment.

Hypothesis 3: For college students with low stress level, there is a significant relationship between active coping and a linear combination of stress, resilience, and secure attachment.

Hypothesis 4: There is a significant difference in active coping between college students with high and low stress levels. There is a difference in active coping between college students with high and low resilience levels. There is an interaction between stress and resilience.

Methods

Participants

The sample of this study consisted of students who enrolled in an Institute of Technology in central Taiwan. The sample was a convenience sample recruited from the business school of that Institute of Technology. A total of 350 participants were recruited and completed the questionnaire. All the participants are Han, the major ethnic group in Taiwan. Of the 350 participants, the final sample consists of 329 respondents (21 out of the 350 did not respond clearly to some items). Of the 329 participants, 14.3% (N = 47) were male and 85.7% (N = 282) were female. Participants’ age ranged from 18 to 22 years old, with a mean of 19.6. Participants were asked to identify a stressful situation they encountered in the previous six months. Based on their experiences of coping with the identified stressful situation, participants responded to the coping scale used in this study-the Coping Strategy Indicator (Amirkhan, 1990a). The stressful situations identified by participants included relationship (38.2 %, N=126), academia (20.7%, N = 68), work (15.2%, N = 50), money (9.7%, N = 32), responsibilities (7.3%, N = 24), accident/physical issues (2.1%, N = 7), and unable to identify (5.8%, N =19). Procedure of Collecting Data

All of the participants voluntarily filled out a questionnaire in their weekly meetings with their academic advisors. The meetings were held in big quiet rooms. Each meeting lasted for half an hour and involved 50 to 60 participants. The advisors briefly described the nature of the study and then gave each participant an inform consent form. Also, the advisors told participants that there would be no penalty if they decided not to participate in the study. About 25 students decided not to participate so they left the room. Others decided to stay in the room, signed the inform consent form, and quietly completed the questionnaire in 25 minutes.

Instruments

The questionnaire consisted of one section of demographic data and four instruments: the Resilience Scale (Wagnild & Young, 1993), the Revised Adult Attachment Scale (Collins, 1996), the Student- Life Stress Inventory (Gadzella, 1991), and the Coping Strategy Indicator (Amirkhan, 199Oa). All instruments were developed by American scholars. Since participants in the study were Chinese students in Taiwan, the researcher of this study translated all instruments into Chinese.

The translated instruments were examined by four doctoral level bilingual (English and Chinese) students for its accuracy of translation. Then, the translated instruments were back-translated from Chinese to English by a bilingual undergraduate student, who was blind to the original English versions of these instruments. The back-translated instruments and the original ones were compared with each other. It appears that these two versions were close in meaning, which indicated a correct translation from English to Chinese. A description of these instruments follows.

The Resilience Scale (RS).

The Resilience Scale (Wagnild & Young, 1993) assesses adults’ trait of resilience. It is a 7-point Likert-type scale that contains 25 items. The internal consistency of the RS has been found to range from .76 to .91 (Wignild & Young). Testretest reliability has been reported range between .67 and .84, with a series of intervals of one, three, and four months, and then another four months (Killien & Jarrettis, 1993). Wagnild and Young tested the concurrent validity of the RS by correlating it with theoretically relevant constructs such as stress adaptation. Results showed that relationships between resilience and adaptation indicators were significant in the expected directions. Resilience scores were positively related to scores of morale, life satisfaction, and physical health. Additionally, higher levels of resilience were related to lower levels of depression.

The Revised Adult Attachment Scale (AAS-Revised).

The revised AAS is an 18-item, 5-point Likert-type instrument with three subscales (secure, ambivalent, and avoidant). Collins (1996) reported that the Cronbach’s alphas for the anxiety, depend, and close subscales of the AAS-Revised were .85, .78, and .77, respectively. Collins and Read (1990) demonstrated the construct validity of the AAS by linking the AAS dimensions (Depend, Anxiety, and Close) with indicators of attachment styles (individuals’ beliefs about self and others). They reported a consistent relationship between the AAS dimensions and college students’ beliefs about self and others.

The Student-Life Stress Inventory (SSI).

The Student-Life Stress Inventory (Gadzella, 1991) is a self- report, 5-point Likert-type inventory that assesses college students’ stressors and their reactions to stressors. The SSI has 51 items. Gadzella and Guthrie (1993) reported that the internal inconsistency for the whole inventory was .78. Gadzella and Baloglu (2001) reported an alpha value of .92 for the whole inventory, indicating a high reliability of the SSI. In 1993, Gadzella and Guthrie found a 3-week test-retest reliability of .78 for the whole inventory. In terms of concurrent validity of the SSI, results of studies showed significant differences among the students’ stress levels (severe, moderate, and mild) on the nine categories (frustration, conflict, pressure, change, self-imposed stressor, physiological reactions, emotional reactions, behavioral reactions, and cognitive appraisal), the two sections (stressor, and reactions to stressors), and the total stress score (Gadzella, 1994; Gadzella & Baloglu, 2001 ; Gadzella & Guthrie, 1993).

The Coping Strategies Indicator (CSI).

The Coping Strategy Indicator (Amirkhan, 199Oa) is a 33-item, 3- point Likert-type scale used to measure the three fundamental coping styles: problem solving, seeking social support, and avoidance. Amirkhan reported good internal consistency for the three subscales of the CSI. Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for problem solving, seeking social support, and avoidance were of .89, .93, and .84, respectively. In the same study, test-retest reliability was found to be .82 with an interval of four to eight weeks. Showing evidence of validity of the CSI, Amirkhan reported significant correlations between some items of the CSI and those of scales such as the Way of Coping Checklist ([WCC] Vitaliano, Pusso, Carr, Maiuro, & Becker, 1985), and the Social Support Questionnaire ([SSQ] Sarason, Sarason, Shearin, & Pierce, 1987).

Data Analysis

Data were analyzed with three separate procedures of multiple regression and one procedure of two-way ANOVA. Hypotheses 1, 2, and 3 were each tested by a procedure of multiple regression, whereas hypothesis 4 was tested by a two-way ANOVA procedure. In the three procedures of multiple regression, stress, resilience, and secure attachment were applied to predict active coping in high stress, general, and low stress situations. The criterion used to separate high from low stressful situations was the median score on the Student-Life Stress Inventory. A combination of high and low stressful situations was regarded as general situations.

The two-way ANOVA procedure was utilized to detect (a) the interaction effect between stress and resilience on active coping, (b) the effect of stress on active coping, and (c) the effect of resilience on active coping. The two independent variables involved in the two-way ANOVA procedure were stress and resilience, and the dependent variable was active coping. Each of the two independent variables was divided into two levels: a high level and a low level. The criterion that was used to separate these two levels was the median score. The median scores on the Resilience Scale and the Student-Life Stress Inventory were 133 and 111, respectively. The two-way ANOVA was composed of four groups: (a) high stress with high resilience, (b) high stress with low resilience (c) low stress with high resilience and (d) low stress with low resilience.

Results

In this study, all the above-mentioned instruments proved to have adequate reliability. Cronbach’s coefficients of the Resilience Scale, the Coping Strategy Indicator, the Advised Adult Attachment Scale, and the Student-Life Stress Inventory were .90, .81, .75, and .89, respectively.

None of the demographic variables (gender, age, stress type, hours of part-time work, family income) significantly influenced the dependant variable of this study-active coping. Nevertheless, gender, age, and stress type significantly influenced some of the independent variables in this study.

Specifically, gender effect was found to be significant in stress and resilience. Females reported significantly higher levels of stress than male did [F (1, 327) = 4.43, p = .036], and significantly lower levels of resilience than their male counterparts did [F (1, 327) = 5.92, p = .016, (female stress: M = 134. 67, SD = 20.84; male stress: M = 127.74, SD = 21.15; female resilience: M = 110.84, SD = 19.57; male resilience: M = 118.30, SD = 18.68)].

The effect of age on secure attachment was also found to be significant [F (4,323) = 2.94, p = .021]. But this significance was limited to the difference in secure attachment between ages 20 and 21. Participants who were 20 years old showed significantly higher levels of secure attachment (M = 56.23, SD = 9.06) than those who were 21 years old (M = 51.87, SD = 8.55).

In addition, stress type significantly affected stress levels [F (7, 318) = 3.00, p = .005]. Results of post hoc tests showed a difference in stress between relational and academic situations. Individuals experiencing a relational situation reported significantly higher levels of stress (M = 138.89, SD = 21.39) than did those who experienced an academic situation (M = 127.06, SD = 19.86).

Effective Predictors of Active Coping in Three Situations

In high stress situations, the multiple regression analysis showed that the only significant predictor of active coping was resilience. Resilience was significantly related to active coping [F (1,165) = 18.62, p

As with high stress situations, resilience was the only effective predictor of active coping in low stress situations. Resilience was significantly related to active coping [F (1, 159) = 19.75, p

In general situations that include both high and low stress situations, the result of multiple regression analysis showed that resilience and secure attachment were significant predictors of active coping [F (2, 326) = 18.57, p

Based on the finding that the trait of resilience was the most effective predictor of active coping across all three different situations, a two-way ANOVA analysis was conducted to evaluate the interaction effects of stress and resilience on active coping. Results showed that there was no interaction effect of resilience and stress on active coping [F (1, 325) = .07, p = .79]. In addition, there was no significant difference in active coping between high and low stress groups [F (1, 325) = .084, p. = .77], indicating that active coping remain stable across stress levels. The results of this two-way ANOVA are reported in Table II.

In summary, results showed that secure attachment and resilience could be predictors of active coping in general situations. In situations of high stress, however, the sole predictor of active coping was resilience. The same result-resilience being the sole predictor- was found in situations of low stress. The trait of resilience did not interact with stress in influencing active coping.

Discussion

Secure Attachment as a Predictor of Active Coping

As predicted, secure attachment was a predictor of active coping in this study (r = .13). This finding is consistent with those of previous studies (Collins & Feeney, 2000; Myers & Vetere, 2002). Individuals with secure attachment, as opposed to their non- securely attached counterparts, tend to cope actively in times of stress. In this study, secure attachment proved to be an effective predictor of active coping in general situations. However, it was not as effective as one might have expected because it explained only 1% of variance in active coping. One possible explanation for secure attachment’s weak predictive power is that some securely- attached individuals rely on other people to deal with stressful situations or that they simply seek comfort from friends in order to forget about the stressful situations.

The Trait of Resilience as a Predictor of Active Coping

The trait of resilience was found to be a predictor of active coping in this study. The finding provides a piece of evidence to support previous researchers’ proposals that resilient individuals tend to cope actively when they encounter stressful situations (Campbell-Sills et al., 2006; Yi et al., 2005). In addition, resilience was an effective predictor of active coping in high, general, and low stress situations. These findings suggest that highly resilient individuals, when compared with their low resilience counterparts, tend to actively cope with stressful situations, regardless of the levels of stress. However, the trait of resilience only contribute to 10% of variance in active coping, indicating that other factors also contribute to active coping.

As mentioned earlier, recent researchers have posited that resilience is developed in the process of coping with day-to-day developmentally appropriate stressful situations and have implied that the trait of resilience can be considered the outcome of an adaptation process. Speaking from a developmental perspective, the trait of resilience can be an outcome of integrating past positive and negative coping experiences into individuals’ sense of self; thus, it is possible that this trait influences individuals’ initial attitude toward stressful situations more than it influences their coping process.

Relationships among Stress, Resilience, and Active Coping

The results of a two-way ANOVA showed that there was no interaction effect of stress and resilience on active coping. It appears that stress and resilience independently influence active coping. Although stress and resilience did not interact with each other to influence active coping, they were found to be significantly and negatively correlated with each other (r = -.25).

The finding that the correlation between stress and resilience was negative is consistent with findings reported by previous researchers (Friborg et al., 2006; Ishige & Muto, 2005). A negative correlation between stress and resilience can be explained as (a) the trait of resilience influences (buffers) the effect of stress on individuals or (b) reduction of stress levels influences (enhances) individuals’ trait of resilience. Based on different explanations, the approaches taken by counselors to help their stress-laden clients could be totally different.

The stability of resilience seems to be the key to explore the direction of influence between itself and stress. If resilience is stable, its stability resists the influence of stress on individuals; thus, explanation (a) can be used to explain a negative stressresilience correlation. On the other hand, if resilience is not stable, it can not resist the influence of stress on individuals; thus, explanation (b) becomes the appropriate explanation for a negative correlation between stress and resilience.

Therefore, the stability of resilience was examined. If resilience is stable, it is expected to predict active coping in different stress levels and show no significant difference among different types of stressful situations. As mentioned earlier, findings of this study showed that resilience can predict active coping in high, general, and low stress situations. The findings provide a piece of evidence to prove the stability of resilience. In addition, a oneway ANOVA was conducted to detect stability in resilience among different types of stressful situations (i.e., academic, relation, work, money). The result of the one-way ANOVA also indicated that resilience is stable because it showed that there was no significant difference in participants’ resilience among different types of stressful situations [F (3, 271) = .54, p = .71]. Based on the findings that resilience predicted active coping in different stress levels and showed no significant difference among different types of stressful situations, the conclusion that resilience is stable was made. Therefore, rather than being influenced by stress, the trait of resilience buffers stress.

Although the trait of resilience buffers the effect of stress and can predict active coping, it contributes to only 10% of variance in active coping. This finding suggests that resilience reduces stress levels but it is not a major factor leading individuals to actively cope with stressful situations. Perhaps it enables individuals to form a positive attitude toward stress and thus activates a positive coping process by which resilience works with other factors to influence individuals to actively cope with stressful situations.

Implications

Resilience was demonstrated to be the most effective predictor of active coping in this study. Therefore, counselors may want to enhance clients’ trait of resilience in order to help them successfully cope with stressful situations. Since resilience is developed in the process of coping with day-to-day developmentally appropriate stressful situations, it can be enhanced by connecting and integrating past positive and negative coping experiences. The implication seems to be that counselors can help their clients deal with current stressful situations, regardless of stress levels, by engaging clients in reflection of their previous coping experiences rather than by abruptly making a quick plan to cope with current stressful situations.

The trait of resilience was found to be more effective than secure attachment in predicting active coping in high, general, and low stress situations. These findings seem to advise counselors to concentrate more on helping clients integrate past coping experiences than on enhancing clients’ ability to positively interact with people, regardless of clients’ stress levels.

The finding that resilience did not show difference across stress levels and stress types suggests that resilience is stable and thus is not necessarily activated by stress. That, in turn, implies that resilience education programs like that proposed by Pollock, Paton, Smith, and Violanti (2003) are not especially fitted to those who experience situations of high stress levels such as post traumatic stress. Instead, anyone interested in enhancing his/her resilience may benefit from participating in resilience education programs.

Previous studies indicated that female students are more easily to become stressed than their male counterparts are (Hudd et al., 2000; Dumount, Leclerc, & Deslandes, 2003; Gupchup, Borrego, & Konduri, 2004). In this study, females showed higher levels of stress and lower levels of resilience than males did. These findings seemed to imply that females may benefit more from resilience education program than males.

Although secure attachment was not found to be an important predictor of active coping in this study, it may be the foundation on which resilience is developed (Kumpfer, 1999; Siegel, 1999). In addition, secure attachment positively impacts the client-counselor relationship and counseling process (Hawkins-Rodgers, Cooper, & Page, 2005; Mohr, Gelso, & Hill, 2005). Consequently, an initial screening of nonsecurely-attached clients may be necessary before a resilience education program starts. A special program for enhancing secure attachment may be needed for nonsecurely-attached clients before they can benefit from a resilience education program. The present study has several limitations that should be considered. First, the sample was a convenience sample; therefore, the degree to which the findings of this study can be generalized to students in other colleges may be limited. second, the instruments used to collect data were all self-report scales. Since participants’ responses to the scales were guided by their subjective perceptions, the accuracy of the data may have been subjectively influenced.

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MING-HUI LI

Sr. John’s University

Ming-hui Li, Ed.D., LPC, LMHC, Assistant Professor of Counselor Education, Department of Human Services and Counseling, St. John’s University. Correspondence should be sent to lim@stjohns.edu or to the following address:

School of Education, Sullivan Hall Room 419, St. John’s University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens, NY 11439.

Copyright Project Innovation, Inc. Jun 2008

(c) 2008 College Student Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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