An Examination of Cognitive Appraisals and Coping on Academic Tasks: A Test of Lazarus' Stress and Coping Model
Lazarus' stress and coping theory was evaluated in the context of academic texts and exams. In keeping with the recommendations of Lazarus and Folkman (1984) to use both laboratory and naturalistic setting and ipsative-normative designs, three experiments were conducted. Experiment 1 examined the cognitive appraisals, emotions, coping, and performance of 180 university students during a simulated math test. Experiment 2 compared the primary appraisals (stress, threat, and challenge) and coping of 100 university students on the simulated math tests with those of the same students on university exams. Finally, Experiment 3 compared the cognitive appraisals, emotions, coping, and performance of 46 university students on an in-class review test with those of the same students on other in-class tests. A test is a time-limited transaction between a person and a stressful event. The objective demands of the task are identical for all and these objective task variables can be controlled an altered. Conversely, the factors that each person bring to the tes are different. The first part of Experiments 1 and 3 examined the effects of objective differences in the stressful event on cognitive appraisals and coping. The second part examined the relationships among appraisals, coping and performance. Experiment 2 examined only the effects of objective differences. In general, the results of these experiments provide support for Lazarus' stress and coping theory. Consistent with theory, in all experiments stress and threat appraisals and emotionality were higher when students were confronted with a more difficult task. On in-class tests, challenge appraisals and emotion-focused coping were higher on a more difficult review test. Furthermore, a significant amound of variance was explained on the regressions for all variables, except problem-focused coping. Moreover, as predicted, there was considerable overlap among the variables in the model, resulting in a large proportion of the explained variance being related to shared variance. The high degree of overlap also resulted in a reduction of the amount of variance that could be attributed uniquely to particular variables. Despite this, a number of relationships were still evident. For example, stress was almost always related to threat and emotionality and emotion-focused coping was almost always related to problem-focused coping and off-task thoughts. However, for other variables, the interrelationships were less clear. For example, although a significant proportion of threat was explained in both Experiments 1 and 3, it appeared to be significantly related to emotionality and the secondary appraisals of uncertainty, conflict/confusion, and helplessness only in Experiment 1. There was also some indication that emotion-focused coping was negatively related to test performance. In contrast, neither challenge nor problem-focused coping consistently related to other variables. Although some variables did not related as predicted, it is argued that this is more likely to be related to operational definitions and methodological problems than to inaccuracies in the theory.