Stress and Coping: Effects of Context and Conscientiousness

by Adeline Savy

Stress, which is influenced by concepts such as personality factors and context, is an inescapable aspect of life that affects everybody to some degree at some point in time. In the literature, stress has been studied extensively in relation to the Big Five personality domains of extraversion and neuroticism, however, fewer studies have been conducted regarding the personality trait of conscientiousness, and even fewer studies have been conducted regarding the individual facets of the Big Five personality domains. The current study investigated the impact that conscientiousness and its specific facets have on stress, coping, mood, attributions, and cardiovascular responses in the context of an anagram solving task in hopes of furthering our understanding regarding the stress and coping process. Participants were 84 female, undergraduate students who were enrolled in a first year psychology course. An anagram solving task was used to induce stress in the participants who prior to their arrival at the laboratory were randomly assigned to either a failure condition in which only 20% of the anagrams were solvable, or a control condition in which 100% of the anagrams were solvable. Participants first completed a general health questionnaire, followed by a relaxation period, after which they completed the anagram solving task. Throughout the study participant’s cardiovascular responses were monitored. Participants also completed a number of questionnaires to assess the other variables of interest including mood, coping strategies used and subjective stressfulness and effort ratings. Conscientiousness was measured with the NEO-FFI personality inventory while the individual facets of conscientiousness were assessed using the International Personality Item Pool measures of conscientiousness. It was hypothesized that the context, that is the condition of the experiment associated with the degree of success attainable, and conscientiousness, along with its individual facets, would play a role in the stress and coping process contributing significantly to some of the variations in the results. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to test the specific hypotheses, however, none of them were found to be significant. Although the hypotheses were not supported, conscientiousness and some of the individual facets were significantly related to problem- and emotion- focused coping as was expected. Specifically, conscientiousness was positively related to problem-focused coping, as were the individual facets of orderliness, dutifulness, achievement striving and self-discipline, while conscientiousness and the individual facets of self-discipline and cautiousness were negatively related to emotion-focused coping. In the current study emotion-focused coping was negatively related to all forms of changes in affect suggesting that increased emotion-focused coping was related to more negative affect scores, as well as to increased cardiovascular responses. The tendency for individuals who are more conscientious to use emotion-focused coping to a lesser extent, may have been related to why decreases in affect and increases in cardiovascular responses for conscientious individuals were not observed. The lack of significant results may also be due to such things as the relatively small sample size which was also self-selected and rather homogeneous, as well as intermittent monitoring of cardiovascular responses and problems that arise in relation to studying stress and coping in a realistic manner in a laboratory setting.