Master's Theses

Date of Award

Spring 1991

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Richard P. Schellenberg

Abstract

The main features of the method of the present research involved asking 96 university or college students enrolled in summer session classes to complete a packet of self-report instruments. These students were asked to identify the most stressful threat and the most stressful challenge that they encountered during a specified 45-day period of time prior to (and which did not include) the past several weeks. This period was selected because it was recent and spanned a time when it seemed reasonable to assume that students might experience significant stressors. One of the self-report questionnaires administered measured the intensity of the students' identified threats and challenges. Other instruments included measures of different modes of social support during the 45-day period, as well as open-ended questions designed to index intended supportive acts that were helpful and unhelpful to the students in coping with their threats and challenges. Students also responded to a scale that measured their predominant mood levels during the past several weeks. To answer questions posed by the present research, one set of analyses was performed to determine whether the perceived availability of different modes of social support during the 45-day period buffered the stressful effects of threat and challenge by having a positive impact on mood levels during the past several weeks. Analyses were also conducted to determine which modes of social support were most effective in helping students cope with threats and with challenges, as well as which specific supportive acts were especially helpful and unhelpful in coping with the two types of stressors. Results include the finding that higher levels of perceived availability of social support were uniformly associated with lower levels of negative mood; also, but somewhat less consistently, higher levels of perceived availability of social support were associated with higher levels of positive mood. Relationships between perceived availability of social support and mood suggested that self-esteem support served to buffer the effects of threat-affect on negative mood. Hence, this mode of support appeared to be uniquely effective for helping students cope with threats, but not with challenges. Relationships between perceived availability of social support and mood also suggested that tangible support served to buffer the effects of challenge-affect on negative mood. Accordingly, this mode of support appeared to be uniquely effective for coping with challenges, but not with threats. Further results were that subjects' ratings of the usefulness of different modes of support revealed that they rated appraisal support and self-esteem support as most useful, belonging support as second-most useful, and tangible support as third-most useful. This ordering of the usefulness of the different modes of support was obtained irrespective of whether the stressor encountered was a threat or a challenge. Hence, unlike the data based on the social support-mood relationships, the usefulness ratings of support did not provide evidence for differential effects of modes of support for threats and challenges. This discrepancy in findings was discussed with reference to the different processes implicated in the measures used to obtain the two kinds of data. Finally, the thesis findings evidenced clear differences in appraised characteristics or threats and challenges. Appraisals or threats differed from challenges in that they were (a) less controllable-by-self, (b) less controllable-by-others, (c) more uncontrollable, and (d) more stressful.

Rights

Copyright 1991 Theresa A. Wadkins

Comments

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