Stress- Emotion Focused and Problem Focused Coping

Emotion and Problem Focused Coping

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Problem Focused Coping



  • Problem focused coping is using strategies that do something active to try and eliminate the stressful situation.
  • For example, trying to take control by finding things out, evaluating the pro's and con's of a decision and supressing competing activites.
  • Research has shown it is often used in situations where the events seem controllable
  • Most effective strategy provided the individual has a realistic chance of changing the situation that is causing them stress.
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Emotion Focused Coping

  • Emotion focused coping is using strategies that attempt to regualte the emotional distress associated with stressful events.
  • Examples include denial (ignoring the presence of the problem) and focusing on venting emotions by finding social support (having a network of close friends).
  • Viewed as more passive as it is an internal process that changes the thoughts and feelings rather than trying to change the situation.
  • Typically used when stressors are less controllable (e.g terroist attacks) and when there is not a realistic chance of changing the situation. 
  • Better as a short term measure- can help to use emotion focused coping to be in a better situation to use the problem focused approach. 
  • Most common view that it is less effective than problem focused coping.
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Research on emotion-focused and problem-focused co

  • Penley et al (2002) found that problem focused coping was positively correlated with good health whereas emotion focused coping was negatively correlated.
  • Nolen-Hoeksema (1993) suggested that women's emotion focused coping (e.g. thinking and worrying) strategies were more likely to lead to depression than mens (exercising and drinking).
  • Park et al. (2004) found that problem focused coping was positively related to a positive mood when dealing with highly controllable stressors
  • Fang et al. (2006) however, found that women who felt more in control and who engaged in problem focused coping became more distressed over time than women who did not. 
  • Rukholm and Viverais (1993) concluded that if someone feels threatened by a stressor then they can only use problem focus coping if they deal with the emotions through emotion focused coping first.  
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Evaluation of the coping styles

  • Problems of measurement- the ways of coping questionnaire could be ambiguous, For example is mobilizing social support classed as problem or emotion focused. It may be used to distract or to obtain information. 
  • Dunkel-Shetter et el (1992) have adapted the categories as they were seen as too general and not realistic.
  • Some emotion focused strategies such as approach (recognizing your feelings) are sometimes more effective. Stanton (2000) found that men who used emotion coping by identifying and expressing emotions are able to deal with infertility better.
  • Problem focused coping can be ineffective if emotions are not realised first
  • Baker and Berenbaum (2007) found that people who used emotion focused coping first were more effective in using problem focused coping afterwards.
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Gender Differences

  • Brody and Hall (1993)- a stereotypical view exists that men are more likely to use problem focused coping and women are more likely to use emotion focused coping. - Stone and Neale (1984) supported this with a study
  • Rosario (1988) found that women used emotion focused coping more than men. They came up with two theories to explain this:
  • Socialisation Theory- argues that women have been socialised to use less effective strategies. Women are taught to express their emotions but act passively. Men are taught to be more active.
  • Role Constraint Theory- argues that the differences come from the roles that men and women tend to occupy. Rosario found that men and women who were socially equal did not differ in their coping strategies. 
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