The role of cognitive appraisals in the relationship between reinforcement sensitivity and coping strategies

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Melissa A. DiMeo (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Rosemery Nelson-Gray

Abstract: Previous research in the stress and coping literature has not fully addressed the role of biologically-based personality systems in the prediction of coping behaviors. As a biologically-derived theory of personality, Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST; Gray, 1970, 1991; Gray & McNaughton, 2000; McNaughton & Corr, 2004) proposes that the behavioral inhibition system (BIS) and the behavioral approach system (BAS) underlie personality dimensions and influence individual differences in reinforcement sensitivity and emotion. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the role of personality variables as assessed by Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory in influencing cognitive appraisals and subsequent coping responses by taking an individual differences approach to psychological stress and coping. Given individual variation in BIS and BAS, it was hypothesized that individuals would experience different perceptions of stress and changeability in response to stressful life events, and thus, select different coping strategies. Specifically, it was predicted that increased BIS sensitivity would lead to a higher perception of stress and lower perception of changeability among individuals. In contrast, it was predicted that increased BAS sensitivity would lead to lower perception of stress and higher perception of changeability among individuals. It was predicted that cognitive appraisals would partially mediate the relationship between reinforcement sensitivity and coping strategies, including emotion-, avoidance-, and problem-focused forms of coping. Undergraduate psychology students (n = 429) completed items of the BIS/BAS Scales, COPE Inventory, and were presented with stress vignettes adopted from the Interpretation Bias Questionnaire to assess reinforcement sensitivity, coping strategies, and cognitive appraisals, respectively. Consistent with hypotheses, significant associations were found between BIS and perception of stress, BIS and avoidance-focused coping, as well as perception of stress with emotion-focused and problem-focused coping. While not in the predicted direction, significant associations were found between BIS and perception of changeability and perception of changeability with emotion-focused and problem-focused coping. Bootstrapping analyses indicated that perception of changeability mediated the relationship between BIS and problem-focused coping. Unexpectedly, suppression effects were indicated in three of the mediational models. When perception of stress was included in the model, the associations between BIS and emotion-focused coping, as well as BIS and avoidance-focused coping actually became stronger. Also, the association between BIS and emotion-focused coping became stronger when perception of changeability was included in the model. In contrast, cognitive appraisals of stress and changeability did not mediate the relationships between BAS and the three coping strategies. These results do not provide support for the prediction that personality variables are associated with coping partially through cognitive appraisals.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Cognitive Appraisals, Coping, Personality
Personality and cognition
Reinforcement (Psychology)
Adjustment (Psychology)
Stress (Psychology)

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