Explaining Individual Differences in Children’s Emotions and Behaviour Following Routine Stressors
: The role of cognitive appraisal, coping and cortisol

  • Sarah Blower

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Many children experience symptoms of mental health problems and a significant proportion reach clinical thresholds of psychological disorder. It has been argued that the rising incidence of these problems and widespread failure to scale effective treatments for those in need means that prevention and early intervention in the development of emotional and behavioural problems is a public health priority. Child development is shaped by many forces, including for example parenting and peer relationships, this PhD is very specifically interested in the consequences of stress for children’s emotions and behaviour. Although the effects of stress are largely deemed negative, striking individual differences are almost universally observed. In the context of equivalent stressors, some children experience poorer outcomes, some remain relatively unaffected and others appear to experience better outcomes. Understanding what causes these differences is important for advancing our knowledge of the stress process, and is also key to designing services to improve children’s emotions and behaviour. This PhD has four aims. Firstly, it examines the relationship between two routine, school- based stressors and children’s emotional and behavioural outcomes. Secondly, it investigates the role of the cognitive appraisal process in accounting for individual differences in those outcomes. Thirdly, it examines the conditions under which cognitive appraisal operates, both in terms of its role as an organiser of coping efforts and cortisol (a stress hormone) as well as the extent to which children display consistency in their appraisals across contexts. Fourthly, it outlines the implications of the study for policy and practice efforts to improve children’s emotions and behaviour. The empirical study was designed as a prospective longitudinal study, following 66 children over the course of one year in which they experienced two routine, school-based stressors (KS2 exams and transition). Participants were recruited via opportunity sampling methods, and a combination of psychological and physiological data were collected at four time points.
Date of Award25 Jun 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorIan Butler (Supervisor)


  • Stress
  • Cognitive appraisal
  • coping strategies
  • Emotional or Behavioral Problems
  • cortisol

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