Thursday, June 13, 2013
The Effects of Social Support on Stress Management
Abbreviated Research Plan for Quantitative Design
The Effects of Social Support on Stress Management
Stress has become pervasive in the lives of many individuals, and stress has been found to profoundly affect mental health, physical well-being, productivity, performance, and decision making as well as exerts a tremendous burden on biological systems (Hildebrandt, Yehuda, & Olff, 2012). This study focuses on whether and to what extent and social support affects the management of stress in non-traditional college students. Over 75% of all college students are under at least moderate stress (May & Casazza, 2008). Non-traditional college students are exposed to additional conflicts that come from managing families, school work, and social obligations (Gigliotti & Huff, 1995). During the last several years, colleges have seen an increase in the number of adults returning to college (Lane, Michelau, Palmer & Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 2012). Their stress is idiosyncratic to other populations because they may be managing school, family, and a job.
Although there is a paucity of research on the stress of these students, studies on the management of work-related roles and family roles causes stress and inadequate job performance (Gigliotti & Huff, 1995). Procidano and Heller (1983) believe that social support mediates stress management. Since the affects of stress have been well-established, determining the effects of social support is valuable information. This research will help generalize the experiences of non-traditional college students and their management of stress through social support.
The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of social support on stress management in non-traditional college students. To determine the extent of the participants' support network, social support was measured by using a scale constructed by Procidano and Heller (1983) that measures perceived social support from family and friends. The scale has two subscales: family and friends, which are identical, but one discusses friends and the other refers to family in the measurement of support (Procidano & Heller, 1983). To determine to what extent the participants manage stress, the Personal Stress Assessment Inventory (Kindler & Schoor, 1991) is used. This inventory determines which participants would benefit most from stress management education (Huebner, 2003).
Viable Research Questions and Hypotheses
The research question "Is there a relationship between social support and stress management" can be answered by observing responses to the survey and measuring the variable (social support). The hypothesis is "Social support affects how individuals view and manage stress". This directional hypothesis is measureable by determining whether and to what extent social support affects how individuals view and manage stress.
This study seeks to determine the characteristics of non-traditional college students between the ages of 28 and 60 and to what extent social support affects their stress management. The sample will consist of 25 students who respond to a call for participants posted at the local university. Twenty-five participants will be randomly selected from the number of responders. This population was chosen because of the assumed impact of stress on non-traditional students.
The survey design is the preferred type of data collection procedure for this study and it will utilize two self-administrated questionnaires. The preference for survey design is guided by the need to obtain direct responses regarding the subjective experiences of these non-traditional college students regarding their perceived social support and their management of stress. The survey instruments used for this survey are Kindler’s Personal Stress Assessment Inventory and the Measures of Perceived Social Support From Friends and From Family (Procidano, & Heller, 1983). The dependent variable is the management of stress. The independent variable is social support.
Data Analysis and Interpretation
For data analysis and interpretation, the study will report and analyze the number of returned surveys as well as the number on non-returned surveys. Wave analysis will be utilized to determine if responses change from the beginning to the latter part of the return process (Creswell, 2009). Descriptive analysis will be provided for the independent and dependent variables in the study and will identify the means, standard deviations, and range of scores for these variables. A t-test will be used to determine whether the extent of the affect of social support on the management of stress is significant.
The dependent variable, stress management, is defined as the act of decreasing the damaging effects of stressors on psychological and physiological health (Glanz, Rimer, & Viswanath, 2008). The independent variable, social support is defined as "person-to-person interactions, including one or more among the following: emotional expression, instrumental support, information and assessment" (Sheets & Mohr, 2009, p. 156). A survey design was chosen to obtain a cross-section of the personal experiences determined by measuring students' perception of social support from friends and family, and its effect on their management of stress.
Abbreviated Research Plan for Qualitative Design
Non-Traditional College Students' Use of Social Support in the Management of Stress
Stress is pervasive in contemporary American life, and it profoundly affects mental health, physical well-being, and takes a toll on the human biological system (Hildebrandt, Yehuda, & Olff, 2012). In recent years, many individuals have returned to college to further their education (Kenner & Weinerman, 2011; Lane, Michelau, Palmer & Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 2012). More than 75% of college students experience moderate stress from college-related stressors (May & Casazza, 2008), however, non-traditional college students who manage families, school work, and other social obligations have stressors that younger students do not have (Gigliotti & Huff, 1995). There is, however, a paucity of research on their experiences of mitigating stress (Gigliotti & Huff, 1995). Through exploring the subjective experiences of these students, colleges may be inspired to develop systems and programs to accommodate them and the stress specific to their situations.
The purpose of this proposed phenomenological study is to explore non-traditional college students' use of social support to affect and manage stress. The focus will be on the subjective experiences of non-traditional students and their use of social support in stress management. Methods of inquiry will be a semi-structured interview and a self-administered questionnaire.
The overarching research question for this qualitative study is: what are the experiences of non-traditional college students in using social support to affect the management of stress? Responses to this question may not be measureable, but meaning will be generated. There are no sub-questions to this research.
I have chosen a qualitative research design for this study because of the need to explore the subjective experiences of these students. This research is not seeking to analyze variables, make predictions, or determine cause and effect, so a quantitative design is not appropriate. This research utilizes a phenomenological approach that will explore in depth, the subjective experiences of the individuals. This approach is commonly utilized when exploring the essence of human experiences about a phenomenon, in this case, the experiences of non-traditional students managing multidimensional aspects of their adult lives (Creswell, 2009). This study aims to learn the meaning of subjective experiences of the use of social support to affect stress management. The study is organized around identifying subjective experiences and finding meaning within them.
Role of the Researcher
I am personally connected to this phenomenological study because I have been a non-traditional student, managing the stressors of family, school, and other social obligations. I intend on being the primary contact and interviewer of the participants of this study.
Participants and Sampling
The intended population for this study is non-traditional college students recruited from responses to a call for participants posted at the student union building at the University of Hawaii. The aim of this study is to enlist 25 non-traditional students. The size of the sample is based on the small size of the college and the number of non-traditional students matriculating.
The recorded semi-structured interview will be used for this study. The interview will cover several aspects of social support and stress management, but will be flexible enough that participants can express their experiences without the constraints of a more structured approach (Smith, 1995). The interview will answer the research question through obtaining subjective experiences of the participants.
Data Analysis and Interpretation
The analysis will be conducted by the author. After transcribing the interviews, and compiling data from the questionnaires, Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis will be used to analyze the data (Smith & Osborn, 2003). The author will identify patterns, themes, and meaning within the participant responses with an awareness of inherent bias from personal experiences as a non-traditional college student. This material will be coded to assist in the useful analysis of the data (Creswell, 2009). The compilation of this material will be audited by a non-involved researcher.
To mitigate threats of validity, all stages of the interview, questionnaire, and data analysis will be documented. Transcripts will be reviewed for mistakes in transcription and coding will be checked to ensure that meanings across coding are consistent. When the data is compiled, it will be presented to the participants in a follow-up interview to determine the accuracy of the compiled data.
Primary ethical considerations include informed consent for all participants, and that they have a right to the results. The participants have a right to privacy, and this right must be respected by the researcher. Furthermore, resources for stress management, support groups, and counseling will be provided for participants.
Abbreviated Research Plan for Mixed Methods Design
The Perceived and Biological Effects of Social Support on Stress Management
The experience of stress is well known in contemporary American life, and research suggests it affects individuals' physical and mental well-being and takes a toll on human biological systems (Hildebrandt, Yehuda, & Olff, 2012). During the last decade, many individuals have returned to college to further their education (Kenner & Weinerman, 2011; Lane, Michelau, Palmer & Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 2012). Most college students experience moderate stress from college-related stressors (May & Casazza, 2008), however, non-traditional college students who manage families, school work, and other social obligations have additional stressors that younger students do not have (Gigliotti & Huff, 1995). There is a paucity of research on non-traditional college students and their experiences of managing stress (Gigliotti & Huff, 1995).
Mixed methods research is a relatively new and a less known mix of qualitative and quantitative designs. Creswell (2008) defines mixed methods as utilizing methods from qualitative and quantitative designs, which provides the researcher with multiple approaches to data collection. This method has been described as a way to neutralize bias that comes from using one approach or the other. Campbell and Fisk (1959) found that the most desirable conditions for using one method were rarely, if ever, met. Implementing aspects of each research design provides the researcher with a method that perceives circumstances from two different vantage points (Campbell & Fisk, 1959).
The goal of this sequential exploratory mixed methods study is to explore the perceived benefits of social support in stress management in non-traditional college students, and to determine, through blood pressure readings, whether a biological benefit exists to perceiving social support as a benefit to stress management. This seminal research contributes to the body of knowledge on non-traditional college students and the experiences of stress specific to their circumstances.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
Research questions are : 'How do non-traditional college students perceive the benefits of using social support in the management of stress' and 'to what extent do blood pressure readings vary according to the perceptions of social support in stress management?' The first research question is characteristically qualitative and rather than quantifying the experiences of social support as it affects stress management, this study will explore perceived benefits of using social support. The second question is quantifiable by measuring blood pressure levels.
The hypothesis for the second research question is "non-traditional college students who use social support in the management of stress have lower blood pressure than non-traditional college students who do not use social support in the management of stress". This is measurable by taking the blood pressure readings of the participants.
For this sequential exploratory mixed methods design, the qualitative design is primary and the quantitative data is secondary. This is appropriate because this study emphasizes the exploration of the perceived benefits of social support in stress management. Mixed methods will provide the rich subjective experiences of non-traditional students and the blood pressure reading will provide a precise quantitative measure of stress as it relates to the use of social support. Additionally, mixed methods research answers both research questions: how non-traditional college students perceive the benefits of using social support in the management of stress; and to what extent do blood pressure readings vary according to the perceptions of social support in stress management? The quantitative phase quantifies the relationship between blood pressure readings and the students' perceptions of social support in the management of stress. The independent variable is students' perceptions of social support and the dependent variable is blood pressure readings.
The population is non-traditional college students between the ages of 28 and 60. The sample will consist of students' responses to a notice for participants posted at the local university. Twenty-five students' will be randomly selected from those who respond. This population was chosen because of the assumed impact of stress on non-traditional students.
Data collection will include a recorded semi-structured interview, which will cover several aspects of social support and stress management and will be flexible enough that participants can express their experiences without the constraints of a more structured approach (Smith, 1995). Blood pressure readings, taken at the time of the interview, will provide the data for the quanitative measure in phase two of the study and will be analyzed for comparison to recommended readings for age, gender, and weight prior to being statistically analyzed with qualitative data.
Mitigating Threats to Validity
To mitigate threats of validity, all stages of the interview and data analysis will be documented. When the data is compiled, it will be presented to the participants in a follow-up interview to determine the accuracy of the compiled data.
Data Analysis and Interpretation
The analysis will be conducted by the author. After transcribing the interviews and compiling data, Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis will be used to analyze the data (Smith & Osborn, 2003). The author will identify meaning within the participant responses with an awareness of inherent bias from personal experiences as a non-traditional college student. For the qualitative data, transcripts will be reviewed for mistakes in transcription and coding will be checked to ensure that meanings across coding are consistent (Creswell, 2009). The compilation of this material will be audited by a non-involved researcher. For the quantitative data, descriptive analysis will be provided for the variables in the study, and means, standard deviations, and ranges of scores will be reported. A correlational analysis will be used to determine if there is a statistically significant relationship between perceptions of social support and blood pressure levels.
An Evaluation and Comparison of the Strengths and Limitations of Research Methods
A particular strength of quantitative research is that it utilizes statistical analysis, which supports a study's generalizeability, in this case, to all non-traditional college students. A goal of quantitative research is to choose a sample that closely resembles the population. Quantitative researchers collect data on more participants, so it is not possible to have the depth and breadth of knowledge about each. When the goal is to determine cause and effect variables, the researcher has control of most confounding influences. This provides credibility to the study's findings. Additionally, because quantitative research utilizes statistical analysis, it provides precise numerical data, which, in many circumstances if far more valuable than qualitative descriptions. Quantitative research ordinarily utilizes a larger number of participants than does qualitative research, and conventional wisdom has established the idea that there is strength in numbers. When studies examine a large number of individuals, the information gained represents information that can be applied to large populations of people.
Quantitative research has several limitations that should be considered by the researcher. Larger sample sizes can prove unmanageable to some researchers and they can be expensive. Interviews used in quantitative designs can be inflexible and can be vulnerable to statistical error (Silverman, 2005). Because quantitative research utilizes statistical analysis, this can pose challenges for the novice researcher (Silverman, 2005). One of the most obvious limitations of quantitative designs is that the research cannot include valuable phenomena that may be inherent in the inquiry because the focus of this type of research is testing hypotheses. In the case of non-traditional college students, quantitative data cannot explore the rich subjective experiences of the individuals of the population. The generation of important themes, patterns, or needs of this population may be excluded or go unnoticed or unreported.
Qualitative data provides a human richness that is not possible in quantitative research. Qualitative research generates new ideas or theories, which have become foundational in the social sciences (Silverman, 2005). In the case of non-traditional college students, exploring the subjective experiences of non-traditional college students may generate new interventions to help them cope with the stressors particular to their circumstances. The generative nature of qualitative research is unrivaled by quantitative design. In the discussion of sample sizes, bigger is not necessarily better, and this type of research rich personal perspectives of beliefs, experiences, and attitudes (Flick, 1995). Although this study explored the experiences of 25 students, the challenges and issues may be typical for this population. The qualitative research on these college students was semi-structured but was able to accommodate the need for an unconstrained approach to data collection (Creswell, 2009; Flick, 1995). As with the subjective experiences of non-traditional college students, experiences from qualitative research can provide individuals with valuable and personally applicable information. Qualitative research is user-friendly and contributes to the design of interventions, as well as new resources for the mitigation of emotional stressors in this population (Marks, Murray, Evans, & Estacio, 2011).
Qualitative data does not have the precision that is intrinsic in quantitative data. Researchers may be open to exploring developing themes and patterns, which may take the research in various directions, which can appear, or be imprecise. Because of the inherent bias of qualitative researchers, they are more likely to be accused of biased research and personal subjectivity (Silverman, 2005).
Mixed Methods Research
Mixed methods research provides a realistic approach to studying the social sciences: human reality is not exclusively qualitative or quantitative by nature, and there is not one best way of understanding human nature. Furthermore, one dimension of the social world is not more valuable or salient than another. Mixed methods is a holistic way of studying non-traditional college students; it delves into their subjective experiences, but additionally quantitatively measures a biological aspect of their stress. It is pragmatic in that researchers are not constrained by one system or another, and they can utilize the assumptions of either traditional method (Creswell, 2009). Mixed methods allows the researcher to utilize the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative methods.
In the mixed methods approach, the researcher must be trained in both types of research. This type of research can carry a higher cost and may be far more time consuming that using one of the other approaches, and it takes considerable planning and the integration of two different methods (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). Some researchers are concerned that mixed methods might render poor quality research more difficult to identify because it is cloaked within the combination of methods (DeLisle, 2011). In the mixed methods study herein, the quantitative phase of the study may have been shortchanged, and might have been better accommodated by a focused quantitative study on the biological effects of stress, mediated or not, by social support.
The three research strategies provide a basis for the most complex of research questions and hypotheses. Each provides a specific platform upon which a researcher can build value and address salient issues for humankind. Although quantitative and qualitative methods seem almost antagonistic in their specific goals, the mixed methods approach combines the two for a complete and holistic perspective of a particular scientific inquiry. Although each of the three methods has strengths, limitations, and challenges, each has tremendous value in creating a parameter by which researchers can continue to augment the existing knowledge on non-traditional college students and their mediation of stress with social support.
Campbell, D. T., & Fiske, D. W. (1959). Convergent and discriminant validation by the multitrait-multimethod matrix. Psychological Bulletin, 56(2), 81-105. doi:10.1037/h0046016
Creswell, J. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
De Lisle, J. (2011). The Benefits and challenges of mixing methods and methodologies: Lessons Learnt From Implementing Qualitatively Led Mixed Methods Research Designs in Trinidad and Tobago. Caribbean Curriculum, 18, 87-120.
Flick, U. (1998). An introduction to qualitative research. London: Sage.
Gigliotti, R. J., & Huff, H. K. (1995). Role-related conflicts, strains, and stresses of older-adult college students. Sociological Focus, 28(3), 329-342.
Glanz, K., Rimer, B. K., & Viswanath, K. (Eds.). (2008). Health behavior and health education: Theory, research, and practice (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hildebrandt, T., Yehuda, R., & Olff, M. (2012). Effects of Traumatic Stress Molecular and Hormonal Mechanism. In , European Journal of Psychotraumatology (pp. 1-123). Co- Action Publishing.
Huebner, S. E. (2003). Review of the Personal Stress Assessment Inventory. In B.S. Plake, J.C. Impara, Spies (Eds.), The fourteenth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/
Johnson, R. B., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2004). Mixed Methods Research: A Research Paradigm Whose Time Has Come. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14-26. doi: 10.3102/0013189X033007014
Kenner, C., & Weinerman, J. (2011). Adult Learning Theory: Applications to Non-Traditional College Students. Journal Of College Reading And Learning, 41(2), 87-96.
Lane, P., Michelau, D. K., Palmer, I., & Western Interstate Commission for Higher, E. (2012). Going the Distance in Adult College Completion: Lessons from the "Non-Traditional No More" Project. Western Interstate Commission For Higher Education.
Marks, D. F., Murray, M., Evans, B., & Estacio, E. V. (2011). Health Psychology: Theory, Research, and Practice (3rd ed.). London: Sage.
May, R. W., & Casazza, S. P. (2012). Academic Major as a Perceived Stress Indicator: Extending Stress Management Intervention. College Student Journal, 46(2), 264-273.
Procidano, M. E., & Heller, K. (1983). Measures of perceived social support from friends and from family: Three validation studies. American Journal of Community Psychology, 11, 1–24
Silverman, D. (2005). Chapter 6. In Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook. London: Sage Publications.
Smith, J. A. (1995). Semi-structured interviewing and qualitative analysis. In J.A. Smith, R. Harre, & L. Van Langenhove (Eds.), Rethinking methods in psychology (p. 9-26). London: Sage.
Smith, J. A. & Osborn, M. (2003). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In J. A. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative psychology. London: Sage.
Sheets, R. R., & Mohr, J. J. (2009). Perceived social support from friends and family and psychosocial functioning in bisexual young adult College Students. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 56(1), 152-163.