Psychosocial factors in the stress-coping process in children: Harnessing resilience in the face of adversity

  • Tara Cheetham

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Background: A range of psychosocial factors have been linked to the development of resilience or vulnerability to stress, including early life experience, personality, social support, coping strategies, cognitive skills, and demographic factors. Research is divided regarding the relative impact of these factors on resilience; focused research is needed to elucidate the findings related to psychosocial processes, stress reactivity and resilience.Aims: The overall aims of the current programme of research were to provide a fuller understanding of children’s psychological and physiological responses to stress, the coping strategies they use, and to investigate specific psychosocial factors which lead to stress resilience or vulnerability in children. To investigate the first aim, an adapted social stressor, the Bath Experimental Stress Test for Children (BEST-C), was developed and assessed.Methods: The research used a mixed methods approach; an embedded and multiphase research design, across the three studies. Each study utilised both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods with children aged seven to 11 years. These encompassed interviews, questionnaires, a novel experimental laboratory task (BEST-C), and the collection of biological samples (salivary cortisol and heart rate).Main findings: In study one, the BEST-C was found to be an effective method for inducing a cortisol response in children. This study also found three distinct patterns of response to the BEST-C suggesting that children do not all respond to stress in the same way. In study two, four themes were found in the analysis of interviews about stress: navigating the social minefield, pressure to thrive in the modern world, fear of the unknown, and learning life’s lessons. In study three a significant increase in cortisol was found in the anticipation period prior to participants completing the BEST-C, suggesting that the thought of the task was stressful. However, no significant increase in response to the task was observed due to an unintended stress-buffering experimenter effect. This programme of research has clarified children’s psychological and physiological responses to an acute stressor and highlighted some of the key psychosocial factors, such as social support and the use of multiple coping strategies, involved in the development of stress resilience.
Date of Award22 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJulie Turner-Cobb (Supervisor) & Hannah Family (Supervisor)

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