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Coping Skills: Socio-Culturally Independent Personality Traits

Neural Network Analysis

To determine the number of reproducible dimensions inherent in the COPE instrument, our NN-based structural analysis used the Pasadena and Lausanne data for iterative learning, while the Zurich data served as independent verification samples. Thus, potential site-specific socio-cultural biases were avoided. We found 2 independent, highly stable and reproducible scales (factors) that explained the observed inter-individual variation in coping behavior sufficiently well (68.6%). The mean within-factor correlations were with 0.284 and 0.257 at least twice as high as the between-factor correlation of 0.127. The new COPE scales included 17 and 11 items respectively and reflected basic coping behavior in terms of "activity" (activity-passivity) and "defeatism" (defeatism-resilience).

Activity versus Defeatism

Activity is best described through items like "turning to work", "getting help and advice from other people", or "coming up with a strategy" whereas "defeatism" is characterized by behavior like "giving up", "using alcohol", or "refusing to believe that this has happened". "Passivity" is understood as negative scoring on the activity scale and "resilience" as negative scoring on the defeatism scale. The term "resilience" is used here as a broader concept, encompassing all those endogenous mechanisms that support and maintain health, thereby enabling subjects to cope with stressful situations. This particularly includes personality traits supporting or impeding social skills [Stassen et al. 2007; Gillespie et al. 2009]. Of particular interest is the question of the extent to which subjects with high defeatism scores are able to compensate this deficit through increased activity.

External Validation

Our results suggest that the newly developed "defeatism-resilience" scale represents a highly stable, socio-culturally independent personality trait, while the "activity-passivity" scale appears to assess a small, socio-culturally influenced component as well. The factors "alcohol consumption", "regular use of medicine", "illegal drugs", "impaired physical health", "psychosomatic disturbances", "impaired mental health", and "regular exercises", as quantitatively assessed through the ZHQ, were used to externally validate the newly constructed scales and to estimate the extent to which the new scales are inter-related with consumption behavior and health problems. Correlation analyses yielded a highly significant and consistent picture of the close relationship between insufficient coping skills on the one hand, and the state of general health on the other: The higher a personís defeatism score the higher his/her impairment in terms of physical and mental health or psychosomatic disturbances, combined with a higher consumption of illegal drugs as well as a significant lack of physical activity (Table).

4 centers
Fig. 8b: Mean scores and variation of scales "activity" (x-axis) versus "defeatism" (y-axis) as derived from the COPE data of 407 students from Pasadena (green), 404 students from Lausanne (red), and 406 students from Zurich (blue) after orthogo≠nalization and normalization. There are virtually no between-center differences with respect to "defeatism" (zero on the y-axis), whereas active Pasadena students achieved, on average, higher activity scores compared to Zurich and Lausanne. No such differences were found for passivity.
Data from a sample of 500 students from Argentina were used for verification and underlined the socio-cultural independence of the coping behavior scales.
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