Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Optimism and Perceived Stress
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SITZ, E. H. (2002). Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Optimism and Perceived Stress. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved July 11, 2020
ERIN H. SITZ AND NICHOLAS POCHE
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY NEW ORLEANS PSYCHOLOGY
Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (email@example.com)
This study investigated the relationship between optimism and perceived stress among 30 males and 30 females at Loyola University. One hypothesis stated that if higher levels of optimism were exhibited, lower levels of perceived stress would also be exhibited. The second hypothesis stated that females would exhibit higher levels of optimism than males, and therefore would exhibit lower levels of perceived stress also. The Life Orientation Test measured optimism and the Perceived Stress Scale measured perceived stress. A Pearson correlation indicated a strong relationship between optimism and perceived stress. However, there was not a strong relationship between gender and optimism or perceived stress.
INTRODUCTION IntroductionWebster’s College Dictionary defines optimism as a tendency to look on the more favorable side or expect the most favorable outcome of events or conditions, and also defines the opposite, pessimism, as the tendency to see only what is disadvantageous or gloomy or to anticipate the worst outcome (1998). Past research has confirmed that optimism can moderate a person’s susceptibility to physical illness while it can also reduce the severity of an illness, facilitate a speedy recovery from an illness, and diminish the chances of relapse (Chang, 2001). In addition, optimism has also been linked to better mental health as correlational studies show an association between pessimism and depression (http://www.apa.org/releases/hirisk.html). In 1992, Aspinwall and Taylor studied the relationship between dipositional optimism and perceived stress in college students, by means of the Life Orientation Test (LOT; Scheier & Carver, 1985) and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS; Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983). Results showed that students scoring high on the LOT (dispositional optimism) experienced less perceived stress at that point in time and three months later. Segerstrom, Taylor, Kemeny, and Fahey also reached similar results in 1998. A strong negative correlation was found between dispositional optimism and perceived stress among 50 UCLA Law students.While much of the research already conducted has authenticated a relationship between optimism and stress, it has not focused much attention on optimism levels and stress levels among gender. Beyond possibly reconfirming a relationship between optimism and stress, we hoped to confirm a relationship between optimism and gender also. We hypothesized that higher optimism levels would negatively correlate with perceived stress and that higher optimism levels would be displayed among females rather than males.
METHODMethodParticipantsData for this study was collected from a convenience sample. Surveys were given to 60 (30 males and 30 females) students from Loyola University of New Orleans. The participants were either volunteers or were given research credit in their class in return for participation in this study. Age and race were not controlled, although ages of participants ranged from 18 to 21.MaterialsInstruments for this study included two pen and paper questionnaires. The first was the Life Orientation Test that included six questions concerning the participant’s level of personal optimism and four filler questions (10 total) (Appendix A). The second questionnaire was the 14-item Perceived Stress Scale (Appendix B).Design and Procedure The study was a non-experimental/correlational design that studied the relationship between three variables—optimism, perceived stress, and gender. Personal optimism was operationally defined by a participant’s score on the 10-item Life Orientation Test. A participant’s results from the Perceived Stress Scale operationally defined the stress variable. The study was administered to all participants in the same classroom setting. After informed consent was obtained from each participant, the LOT and PSS were distributed. After completion of the questionnaires, all participants were thoroughly debriefed.
RESULTSResults The first hypothesis, which stated that people who exhibit higher levels of optimism would also exhibit lower levels of perceived stress, was supported by the results of this study. An independent group t-test and Pearson correlation test were used to assess the statistical results. The correlation (r(58) = -.555, p < .05) between optimism (M = 14.9, SD = 4.6) and perceived stress (M = 26.7, SD = 8.3) was significant (p < .001). The second hypothesis, which stated females would exhibit higher levels of optimism and lower levels of perceived stress than males, was not supported by the results. Female scores on optimism (M = 18.0, SD = 3.0) were higher overall than male scores on optimism (M = 11.8, SD = 3.9). Gender and optimism were positively correlated (r(58) = .677, p < .001). The relationship between perceived stress and gender was not supported by the results. Female scores on perceived stress (M = 25.3, SD = 8.9) were lower than male scores (M = 28.1, SD = 7.7), but yielded an insignificant Pearson correlation (r(58) = -.169, p = .196).
DISCUSSIONDiscussion Results did support the hypothesis that people who exhibit higher levels of optimism will also exhibit lower levels of perceived stress. Results did not support the hypothesis that females would exhibit higher levels of optimism and also lower levels of perceived stress. These findings concur with those of Aspinwall and Taylor (1992) and supported the hypothesized idea that the more optimistic and individual is, the lower his or her perceived stress will be. This is also in accord with the results of Segerstrom et al. (1998) which revealed that dispositional optimism and perceived stress are negatively correlated.Weaknesses and possible improvements always exist in any conduction of research. For future purposes, this study should involve a larger sample to increase generalization. In addition, variables such as age, race, religious affiliation, locus of control, coping style, and mood were not controlled for. Also, any study involving human participants can fall prey to the social desirability bias. Research in the area of stress and optimism has important implications. Studies have shown a relationship between optimism and better physical and mental health, as well as optimism and better coping skills. High stress levels have also been correlated with higher chances and incidences of physical and mental illness, such as depression. Optimism and stress reach into the scope of personality traits as well. Stress and pessimism, in particular, are large indicators of a Type A personality. If optimism can be taught to counterbalance stress and pessimism, then the possible consequences of a Type A personality will diminish. Furthermore, the relationship between optimism and stress can relate to cognitive processes. Even more specifically, the relationship between gender and optimism or stress can specifically relate to cognitive differences in men and women. The validation of the role optimism has on stress is only a small step in investigating an important phenomenon. Researchers need to establish the factors that encourage the development of positive self-perceptions and beliefs as well as the factors that influence the maintenance of such beliefs. The results of the present research give us confidence that such research is likely to yield important, meaningful, and useful information.
REFERENCESReferencesAPA Online. (1998, August 6). Optimism and Pessimism Play Different Roles in Preventing Depression at Different Ages, Says Study. Retrieved January 29, 2002, from http://www.apa.org/releases/hirisk.htmlAspinwall, L.G., & Taylor, S.E. (1992). Modeling cognitive adaptation: alongitudinal investigation of the impact of individual differences and coping on college adjustment and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 989-1003.Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein R. (1983). A global measure ofperceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 385-396.Scheier, M.F., & Carver, C.S. (1985). Optimism, coping, and health:Assessment and Implications of generalized outcome expectancies. Health Psychology, 4, 219-247.Segerstrom, S.C., Taylor, S.E., Kemeny, M.E., & Fahey, J.L. (1998). Optimismis associated with mood, coping, and immune change in response to stress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1646-1655.Webster’s College Dictionary (1998). Nashville, TN: The SouthwesternCompany.
Submitted 5/14/2002 11:00:03 AM
Last Edited 5/14/2002 11:05:40 AM
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