A Count of Coping Strategies
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The present study examined the association between coping and adjustment among university students. While most research on coping focuses on identifying optimal coping strategies, the Transactional Theory of Coping highlights that adaptive coping involves an ability to adapt and change coping strategies in a way that facilitates positive adjustment (e.g., Coping Flexibility). In order to demonstrate flexibility among a variety of coping strategies, however, one must first possess a diverse range of coping strategies that they are able to use when stressed. Studies investigating the use of coping strategies typically compute means-based analyses whereby they not only investigate what strategies are used, but also how much (i.e., a little, a medium amount, a lot) each is used – a composite score then is computed based on the average frequency of use across all the strategies. As a result, this approach is unable to differentiate between individuals who use a lot of strategies infrequently and individuals who use only one or two strategies a lot. In other words, when using a means-based analysis, distinct coping patterns can present with identical means, limiting the conclusions that can be made regarding the relationship between the number of coping strategies used and adjustment. To address this limitation, the current study investigated the number of strategies that individuals use when stressed, rather than how frequently they use them (i.e., a count-based approach). A direct comparison is also made between the counts-based approach and the means-based approach in order to address whether or not counting how many strategies individuals engage in may provide different information than when taking a means-based approach. Using an autoregressive cross-lag path analysis, results revealed that when using a count-based approach, using many positive coping strategies, regardless of how often they were used, led to more positive adjustment and less negative adjustment than using a smaller number of positive coping strategies. Further, engagement in greater negative coping strategies predicted more depressive symptoms and poorer emotion regulation than engagement in fewer negative coping strategies. For the means based approach, the results for engagement in negative strategies remained consistent; however, engagement in positive coping strategies more frequently no longer predicted having better positive adjustment. This finding indicates that a count-based approach may offer a novel way to examine how the number of coping strategies individuals use can help promote positive adjustment among university students.