Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Influences of Social Context on Coping Mechanism

Cultures influence an individual's coping style (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012). For example, when watching the evening news on television during times of social upheaval and civil fighting, it is not unusual to see Middle Eastern women mourning their dead in the streets. It is common for them to wail and scream over their losses in public places. In this country, however, we designate more private places for mourning, such as with family members in the home, or at funeral parlors during the wake and funeral.

Subcultures, such as immediate families, have a profound influence on coping as well (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012). Family relationships have been implicated in depressed mood (Gil-Rivas, Greenberger, Chen, Montero, & López-Lena, 2003). For example, parental warmth and acceptance mediate depression in adolescents (Gill-Rivas et al., 2003). From a slightly different perspective, and employing Bandura's theory of social learning, children learn from watching their parents (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012). This may include learning coping skills and the management of emotions. For example, if a parent closes himself off from the rest of the family when coping with stress, children may learn to similarly cope with their own stress, learning that this is the appropriate way to manage stress. In effect, the parent is modeling appropriate stress management behavior for the child. When the parent's coping style is maladaptive, the child will likely not understand the maladaptive nature of the parent's behavior, and will implement similar behaviors as a familiar model of stress management behavior.

Stress-Buffering Model

The Stress-Buffering Model suggests the benefits of social relationships derive from their ability to decrease the deleterious effects of stress on psychological and physical well-being (Ulchino & Birmingham, 2011). This buffering effect takes place early in the stress appraisal process. In effect, social support eases the initial psychological shock during appraisal and buffers the individual from making a harsher and more threatening appraisal of the circumstance (Ulchino & Birmingham, 2011).

I am always interested in evaluating behaviors from an evolutionary perspective. Humans seem to have an evolutionary history of being pack animals, or to have congregated in small family groups for survival. Isolation may be contrary to our innate ability to manage the effects of stress, ergo, isolation may increase the effects of stress. For example, a cave dweller would have found a pack of hungry wolves far more threatening when he was isolated from his clan or family. The same hungry pack would be perceived as far less threatening when in a group of twenty or so.

In addition, expanding on Bandura's (1999) concept of reciprocal determinism that postulates the social environment conditions people's behavior, and vice versa, it may be possible that without a social element with which to interact, isolation may inhibit an individual's ability to successfully adapt in crisis. This may take place as early as in the initial appraisal of the circumstance. For example, Bandura (1999) believed that individuals contribute to their own motivation and their overall development through reciprocity with other people.

The removal of resources, for example, lack of a support group or good friends on which to rely, creates a more challenging environment for coping (Rook, August, & Sorkin, 2011). Hogg, Hohman, and Rivera (2008) posited one of the reasons people are averse to isolation is that they have an inherent need to belong. If this is a basic human need, it may be that coping in isolation would produce less successful outcomes than coping with the resources and support of others.

All of this having been said, the Stress-Buffering Model depends on an individual's ability to respond to social support. This, of course, opens up a number of biological and neurological factors that have the potential to profoundly affect the individual's unique interpersonal and intrapersonal capabilities that will either augment or inhibit their interaction with their social environment.

Social Contexts: Influence on Parents of Developmentally Disabled Children

The population I chose is parents of children with developmental disabilities. This population's role of parenting has the potential to provoke extraordinary stress (Singer, Ethridge, & Aldana, 2007). Typical symptoms of this stress includes ongoing sadness, isolation, and an increased risk of mental illness and a higher rate of divorce (Singer et al., 2007). Approximately 35% of mothers of children with developmental disabilities experience episodes of depression more severe than those experienced by mothers of typically developing children (Singer, 2006). The symptoms most commonly reported are depression (Singer, 2006) and feelings of intense isolation (Gupta, 2007).

Social context definitely has an influence the coping mechanisms of this population. They feel isolated from the majority population because they feel different and separate from others who cannot understand their circumstances (Gupta, 2007). Or they may not have strong support systems in place, and find it difficult to create them while simultaneously caring for their child. Isolation increases the risk for depression and other mental illnesses (Singer et al., 2007). For minority populations, the experience of isolation is more profound since they have a difficult time understanding the resources available to them (Gupta, 2007).


Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of personality. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.),
Handbook of personality: Theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 154-196). New York: The Guilford Press.

Gil-Rivas, V., Greenberger, E., Chen, C., Montero, M., & López-Lena, M. (2003). Understanding depressed mood in the context of a family-oriented culture. Adolescence, 38(149), 93-109.

Gupta, V. (2007). Comparison of parenting stress in different developmental disabilities. Journal Of Developmental & Physical Disabilities, 19(4), 417-425. doi:10.1007/s10882-007-9060-x

Hogg, M.A., Hohman, Z.P., & Rivera, J.E. (2008). Why do people join groups? Three motivational accounts from social psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 1269-1280.

Rook, K. S., August, K. J., & Sorkin, D. H. (2011). Social network functions and health. In R. J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health (pp. 123–136). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Singer, G. S. (2006). Meta-analysis of comparative studies of depression in mothers of children with and without developmental disabilities. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 111(3), 155. doi: 10.1352/0895-8017(2006)111[155:MOCSOD]2.0.CO;2

Singer, G. H., Ethridge, B. L., & Aldana, S. I. (2007). Primary and secondary effects of parenting and stress management interventions for parents of children with developmental disabilities: A meta-analysis. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 13(4), 357-369. doi: 10.1002/mrdd.20175

Laureate Education, Inc. (2012). Coping in a social context. [Handout].

Ulchino, B. N., & Birmingham, W. (2011). Stress and Support Processes. In R. J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health (pp. 111-121). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

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