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Journal Article Summary and Analysis

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The purpose of this essay is a critical analysis of the scientific journal article “Stress, Sex Differences, and Coping Strategies among College Students” by Ruby Brougham, Christy Zail, Celeste Mendoza, and Janine Miller, published in an academic journal Current Phycology in June 2009. The article explores various types of stress and different stressors as well as use of various stress coping strategies, among college students with respect to sex differences between male and female students. The claims made in the article are supported by the surveys data provided by the authors, relevant examples and theoretical base. This paper will critique and evaluate the article in terms of strengths and weakness of the research presented by the authors. We will also try to find out the practical value, expedience and urgency of the surveys conducted in the course of the research. The final goal of the analysis is to define if the research was valuable and whether more research is needed in this field.

The article begins with the scientific evidence of the previous research. It states that the transition from childhood to adolescence, which usually concurs with first college years, is a rather stressful and challenging period because it is connected with the beginning of an independent life. The increased stress level is associated with various stressors, such as financial difficulties, adopting new roles, daily hassles, and familial relationships, which often lead to deterioration in physical and mental health. The authors seek to broaden the previous research in this field conducted by Zuckerman and Gagne in 2003 in order to develop a clearer pattern of sex differences in coping with stress situations among college students and use of problem-solving strategies to cope with stress (Brougham et al., 2009, pp.87-88). The goal of the research was to identify the sources of the stresses of undergraduates and state the relations between specific types of stressors and coping strategies used by different sexes. The authors divided all stressors into 5 major types with corresponding coping strategies and further break down of the latter into two broader categories: “problem-focused” and “emotion-focused”. The five stressors specified in the research are familial relations, daily hassles, academics, social relationships, and finances. The five coping responses to these stressors include self-help, sustaining emotional well-being, accommodation, which helps to accept and reframe the negative outcomes, approach, including problem-solving strategies, avoidance and self-punishment (Brougham et al., 2009, p.87). The authors state that these five stressors influence male and female students differently and in response they use different coping strategies. Further reading of the article discloses the reasons for greater stress level among female students. The hypothesis of the researchers was that women would show an overall greater stress level than men and would report using stress coping strategies more often than men. The instruments and methods, which were taken as a basis, were Revised COPE (Critical Care Outcome Prediction Equation) Inventory, student self-assessment presented by a five point Likert scale, employment status and demographics of the respondents. Seventy men and ninety six women from a liberal arts university in Southern California took part in the survey. The respondents had to report on the five academic stressors, listed above, namely academic, financial, familial, social, and daily hassle stressors, and the types of coping strategies they use to overcome them. In general, the results proved the suggested hypothesis. Women reported higher stress levels for all the five stressors except for the academic one, where no particular differences between the genders were found. As for the use of coping strategies, women showed greater use of self-help approach and self-punishment, the so-called “emotion-focused” and “maladaptive” strategies. Women more often apply for emotional support from their family and friends. The greater use of emotion-focused coping strategies often has negative outcomes for college women and result in poorer health. They also report slightly higher rate of the approach technique which means they are able to accomplish tasks one step at a time. As for the college men, they were found to use both “maladaptive” and “adaptive” emotion-focused coping strategies while women choose only maladaptive ways of overcoming stress (self-punishment, avoidance). The authors of the article explain this phenomenon by women’s desire to “tend and befriend” and their empathetic abilities. They invest a lot of time and efforts in listening and understanding other people’s worries, and highly value familial relations and friendship. Together with their family members and friends, women create a circle for exchanging stress, as well as providing support for those that are exposed to a stressful situation. Using emotion-focused strategies females increase the stress of the person from whom they receive help. That is why stress level for academic problems was similar with that showed by men because it did not involve interpersonal relationships. 

The importance and urgency of the current research lies in a different view on stress with respect to sex and gender differences. The authors successfully achieved the goals set at the beginning of research and enriched the existing scientific basis developed by the previous researchers in the field. Some of the hypotheses set at the beginning of the research were justified by the conducted surveys: women reported overall higher levels of stress than men, particularly for familial, social relationships and hassles. However, authors made false prognosis as for greater stress for finances, and the use of self-punishment as the overall coping strategy among women college students. The discrepancies of the research are in the size of experimental groups (unequal number of male and female participants), the lack of diversity of the undergraduate sample in terms of race and income levels. Self-assessment may also bring confusion into the investigation process. Thus, lower stress levels reported by college men, may be conditioned by their unawareness of the stress situation or unwillingness to report it, which is typical for most of the men. The possible suggestions for improvement of the research may be in asking the participants about the amount of close acquaintances and friendships in their life, the influence they produce on their daily life, whether these relations cause more stress or, on the contrary, help in coping with it. The authors themselves express the idea of possible application of their research by designing “a stress workshop … which would focus on teaching effective skills of supportive communication, including emotional processing, emotional regulations, reflective communication, and problem solving to both college students and parents” (Brougham et al., 2009, p. 95). Undoubtedly, the major goal of the research of this kind should be developing of effective supporting communication between students and parents. Hence, taking into account all the limitations of the current research, the further investigation may be performed, in order to find out whether higher levels of stress reported by women are connected only with their social and familial relationships.

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