Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Perceived and Biological Effects of Social Support on Stress Management

The experience of stress is well known, 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). Despite the number of adults returning to college, there is a paucity of research on non-traditional college students and their experiences of managing stress (Gigliotti & Huff, 1995).

Purpose Statement

The goal of this 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 Plan

Mixed methods research is a relatively new and a less known mix of qualitative and quantitative designs. This strategy utilizes methods from qualitative and quantitative designs, which provides the researcher with multiple approaches to data collection (Creswell, 2009). This method may 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, and implementing aspects of each research method provides the researcher with an approach that perceives circumstances from two different vantage points.

For this sequential exploratory mixed method design, the qualitative data is collected in the first phase, the quantitative data collection follows in the second phase, and supports and adds to the qualitative data. This is appropriate because this study emphasizes the exploration of the perceived benefits of social support in stress management. The quantitative data was an addition to the original research plan. The quantitative phase is an experimental design that looks at the statistical relationship between blood pressure readings and the students' perceptions of social support in the management of stress. The dependent variable is stress management and the independent variable is social support.


The population is non-traditional college students between the ages of 28 and 60. The sample will consist of students who responded 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

Data collection will include a semi-structured interview, which will cover aspects of social support and stress management and will be flexible enough for participants to express experiences without the constraints of a structured approach (Smith, 1995). Blood pressure readings, taken at the time of the interview, will provide the data for the quantitative measure in phase two of the study and will be statistically analyzed with the qualitative data.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

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 qualitative data, descriptive analysis will be provided for the variables in the study, and means, standard deviations, and ranges of scores will be reported. A t-test will be used to determine if there is a statistically significant relationship between perceptions of social support and blood pressure levels. 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.

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.


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.

Gigliotti, R. J., & Huff, H. K. (1995). Role-related conflicts, strains, and stresses of older-adult college students. Sociological Focus, 28(3), 329-342.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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