Cognitive Appraisal and/or Personality Traits

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Li, M. (2009, March). Cognitive appraisal and/or personality traits: Enhancing active coping in two types of stressful situations. Paper based on a program presented at the American Counseling Association Annual Conference and Exposition, Charlotte, NC.

Cognitive Appraisal and/or Personality Traits: Enhancing Active Coping in Two Types of Stressful Situations

Paper based on a program presented at the 2009 American Counseling Association Annual Conference and Exposition, March 22, Charlotte, North Carolina

Ming-hui Li

Ming-hui Li, EdD, LPC, LMHC, is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Services and Counseling at St. John’s University, Queens, NY. His areas of specialty include stress-coping and resilience development.

College students frequently experience stressful situations (Dungan, 2002; Li, 2006). Some college students actively cope with stressful situations while others become victims of the situations. The researcher has been interested in exploring factors that lead college students to actively cope with stressful situations. Enhancing these factors may facilitate college students to employ active coping. The term active coping in the study refers to people’s coping responses that are characterized by solving problems, seeking social support, and non-avoidance. The purpose of this study was to explore effective predictors of active coping in two major types of stressful situations among college students: relation and work. Results of this study may provide information for counselors to help students adapt better to college life by enhancing specific factors in different stressful situations.

Theoretical Framework

Researchers have not reached an agreement on the nature of coping. For example, process-oriented researchers (e.g., Albinson & Petrie, 2003; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Olff, Langeland & Gersons, 2005) proposed that cognitive appraisal determines the responses individuals adopt to cope with stressful situations. In contrast, diathesis-oriented researchers (e.g., Abela & Skitch, 2007; Li & Yuan, 2003; Wagner, Chaney, Hommel, Andrews, & Jarvis, 2007) suggested that a match between personality traits and stress types decides coping responses. The present study explored the extent to which a combination of these two theoretical approaches can determine college students’ employment of active coping. Process-oriented researchers (e.g., Albinson & Petrie, 2003; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Olff, Langeland & Gersons, 2005) proposed that coping is a process (instead of a mere trait) in which personal factors, such as beliefs, and environmental factors, such as novelty, work together to affect coping responses through cognitive appraisal. These researchers argued that personality traits and environment are insufficient to determine coping responses. Cognitive appraisal, they believe, is what determines individuals’ coping responses. From their perspective, coping responses can be decided only after individuals have cognitively considered (a) how their lives are influenced by the situation and (a) what they can do to deal with the situation. In contrast, diathesis-oriented researchers (e.g., Abela & Skitch, 2007; Li & Yuan, 2003; Wagner, Chaney, Hommel, Andrews, & Jarvis, 2007) advocate that individuals’ personality traits influence coping responses in specific contexts. They argued that personality traits influence coping responses most in stressful situations that are closely related to those traits. For example, individuals’ self-efficacy (a task-related trait) has great influence on their coping responses to task-related stressful situations, such as looking for a part-time job. In contrast, individuals’ secure attachment (a relation-related trait) is powerful in influencing coping responses to relation-related stressful situations, such as getting along with new roommates. Both approaches have been supported by...
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