The relationship of coping and choice to verbal memory and behavioral reactivity

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Virginia Tech


Evidence suggests that individuals cope with stressful life events more effectively if they believe that they are in control of their environment. Rotter's Locus of Control is a measure of this belief about personal control. An individual with an internal locus of control would be more likely to believe that events are contingent on his or her behavior, and could thus be expected to feel more in control of his or her environment than an external locus of control individual. In addition to locus of control, it has been shown experimentally that allowing subjects to make a choice about outcomes also leads to enhanced perception of control in individuals. To test the hypothesis that perceived control will lead to better performance on a stressful memory task, and that individuals who believe they are in control will employ more problem-focused and fewer emotion-focused coping strategies, 60 undergraduate students from introductory psychology were given three lists of words to memorize and recall. Subjects were assigned to one of four groups: Internal/choice, Internal/No choice, External/Choice, External/No Choice. Blood pressure and heart rate were taken for a behavioral reference. While subjects in the internal locus of control condition and the choice condition performed better than those in the external and no-choice condition, as predicted, results did not reach statistical significance. However, it was shown that internal locus of control subjects used significantly fewer avoidance coping responses than external locus of control subjects, and that there were significant differences in the number of coping responses recalled from memory and from immediately after the task.