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Keywords:

  • emotional labour;
  • organizational stress interventions/prevention;
  • personality

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. REFERENCES

The present research moved beyond focusing on negative dispositions to investigate the influence of positive aspects of personality, namely extraversion and openness, on stress responses including appraisals, affect and task performance. Challenge appraisals occur when stressor demands are deemed commensurate with coping resources, whereas threat appraisals occur when demands are believed to outweigh coping resources. We examined the unique influence of personality on stress responses and the mediating role of appraisals. Personality was assessed, and then participants (N = 152) were exposed to a validated math stressor. We found unique effects on stress responses for neuroticism (high threat and negative affect and low positive affect), extraversion (high positive and low negative affect) and openness (high positive and low negative effect and better performance). Mediation analyses revealed that neuroticism indirectly worsened performance, through threat appraisals, and that openness indirectly increased positive affect through lower threat. These findings highlight the importance of investigating multiple aspects of personality on stress responses and provide an avenue through which stress responses can be changed—appraisals. Only by more broad investigations can interventions be tailored appropriately for different individuals to foster stress resilience. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. REFERENCES

Research has explored the impact of individual differences on stress responses, with a traditional focus on locus of control, hardiness, type A behaviour, optimism and neuroticism (Parkes, 1994; Sonnentag & Frese, 2003). Personality is one type of individual difference variable that characterizes basic, dynamic tendencies, which foster consistency in reaction to the environment (McCrae & Costa, 1987). The domain of personality is composed of five dimensions—neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness (John & Srivastava, 1999; McCrae & Costa, 1999). Although the role of neuroticism on stress responses has been investigated, there is a lack of research exploring positive aspects of personality, such as extraversion and openness. Further, the unique influence of personality dimensions on stress responses is poorly understood. The present study investigated the influence of neuroticism, extraversion and openness, those with relevance for guiding reactions to a novel mental stressor, on stress responses such as appraisals, affect and performance. We also investigated whether stressor appraisals would mediate the link between personality and other stress outcomes, because stress outcomes exist at levels beyond initial appraisals (Hurrell, Nelson, & Simmons, 1998; Kahn & Byosiere, 1992).

Stress responses are initiated through appraisals—the lens through which individuals make sense of and initiate interactions with their environment (Lazarus, 1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Primary appraisals are evaluations of the personal relevance of an impending stressor, with respect to its importance for well being, values and beliefs. Secondary appraisals are evaluations of the resources available for coping with an impending stressor. The relative weighting of these subjective evaluations (in a ratio of primary to secondary appraisal) results in a continuum of approach-oriented (challenge) to avoidance-oriented (threat) responses. Challenge appraisals occur when coping resources are deemed commensurate with stressor demands, whereas threat appraisals occur when coping resources are deemed inadequate to meet stressor demands. At the extremes, those who are challenged are confident in their ability to cope with the magnitude of the stressor, expecting gain or mastery over the situation, whereas threatened individuals are overwhelmed. Challenge and threat appraisals evoke divergent affective, physiological and performance responses to novel stressors (see Blascovich, Seery, Mugridge, Norris, & Weisbuch, 2004; Schneider, 2004, 2008; Seery, Weisbuch, Hetenyi, & Blascovich, 2010; Tomaka, Blascovich, Kelsey, & Leitten, 1993).

Appraisals are the initiator of and thus a key proximal stress outcome, but distal factors such as dispositions and personality should also influence appraisals (Lazarus, 1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). For example, compared with low assertiveness, high assertiveness predicts challenge appraisals of an impending speech stressor (Tomaka et al., 1999). In addition, high just world beliefs (beliefs that the world is just and fair; Lerner, 1980) predict challenge appraisals of an impending math stressor, compared with low just world beliefs (Tomaka & Blascovich, 1994). Although it is clear that dispositions are linked to appraisals, the personality dimensions explored in the present study are conceptually relevant predictors of stress outcomes as well. Neuroticism is the tendency toward negative affectivity, emotional distress and anxiety (McCrae & Costa, 1987). Neuroticism intensifies reactivity and heightens vulnerability to stress (Suls, 2001) and likely focuses attention on aversive aspects of an impending stressor. Neuroticism should predict deleterious stress responses. Extraversion is the tendency toward positive affectivity and being energetic and social (McCrae & Costa, 1987). Extraversion should confer affective benefits during distress. Openness is the tendency toward a curious, thinking orientation and exploration and being original and creative (McCrae & Costa, 1987). Given a novel cognitive task, thinking, exploratory tendencies should facilitate approach-oriented responses.

Neuroticism has been the most frequently studied personality dimension in stress research (Bolger & Zuckerman, 1995; Suls, 2001), but few have examined the impact of personality on appraisals and affective responses to an impending stressor. One study found that neuroticism was related to threat but assessed threat via affect items (worry, fear and anxiety; Gallagher, 1990). Penley and Tomaka (2002) moved toward assessing appraisals as theorized by Lazarus, using three-item primary and secondary appraisal measures, but found that neuroticism was related only to less coping ability (secondary appraisal) and not the ratio. Most recently, Schneider (2004) found that neuroticism was related to threat, assessed using a primary/secondary appraisal ratio.

Extraversion has been investigated to a lesser degree (Penley & Tomaka, 2002; Schneider, 2004; Vollrath & Torgersen, 2000). One study found that extraversion was related to challenge but assessed challenge via affect items (confident, hopeful and eager; Gallagher, 1990). Others aligned their assessment with Lazarus's construal of appraisals and found that extraversion was related to evaluations of more coping ability, but not to the appraisal ratio (Penley & Tomaka, 2002). Schneider (2004) found that extraversion was only marginally related to challenge appraisals. There are fewer published studies investigating the role of openness on stress responses (Penley & Tomaka, 2002; Schneider, 2004). Penley and Tomaka (2002) reported significant bivariate relationships of openness with lower demand appraisals and higher coping appraisals, which together denote challenge, but there was no relation of openness with the appraisal ratio. They also found that openness was negatively related to passive endurance (sedentary waiting), suggesting an approach orientation.

The correlations reported by Penley and Tomaka (2002) show that personality correlations with demand appraisals (one aspect of primary appraisals; see Schneider, 2008) and the ratio are similar in direction and general magnitude, leaving the interpretation of a link of personality with the coping appraisal (one aspect of secondary appraisals; see Schneider, 2008) vague. The ratio considers the relative influence of primary and secondary appraisals as suggested by Lazarus's theory and has yielded robust divergence in physiology and behavioural performance for challenged and threatened groups (see Blascovich et al., 2004; Schneider, 2004, 2008; Seery et al., 2010; Tomaka et al., 1993). The present study aimed to more fully investigate resilience by using the appraisal ratio and examining the unique influence of personality on stress responses across multiple stressor outcomes, including affect and performance.

Challenge appraisals should result in greater positive affect, and threat should result in greater negative affect (Lazarus, 1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). The direction of the appraisal–affect link is largely unknown (Lazarus, 1999; Zajonc, 1998), although they are likely part of the same process (Forgas, 1993). Neuroticism has been related to more negative affect (Penley & Tomaka, 2002; Schneider, 2004) and less positive affect (Schneider, 2004). There are few and inconsistent findings for extraversion, which has been unrelated to affect (Penley & Tomaka, 2002) and has been related to more positive and less negative affect (Schneider, 2004). Inconsistencies exist for openness, with some reporting no relation to affect (Penley & Tomaka, 2002) and others showing that it is related to more positive and less negative affect (Schneider, 2004).

This is the first study, to our knowledge, to examine the unique influence (beyond bivariate relationships) of personality on stress outcomes, which will foster our understanding of the relative importance of personality for stress responses. In addition, we examined the role of appraisals as a mediator of the personality–stress outcome link. Schneider (2004) found that appraisals mediated the neuroticism–affect link, but that study included less than 60 participants. The present study had more power (N = 152), providing a better platform for testing both the unique influence of personality on stress appraisals, affective responses and performance and appraisals as a mediator of these relationships. We hypothesized that neuroticism would uniquely evoke threat appraisals, higher negative affect and reduced task performance on a novel mental math stressor, extraversion would uniquely evoke challenge, higher positive affect and better task performance, and openness would uniquely evoke challenge, higher positive affect and better performance. We expected to find that appraisals would serve as a significant link between personality and these stress responses.

Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. REFERENCES

Participants

Undergraduates (N = 152) from an introductory psychology course at a Midwestern university participated in exchange for partial course credit. No inclusion/exclusion criteria were used (any student in need of partial course credit could participate). The average age was 20.3 years (standard deviation = 4.4). Most were female (n = 110; 72%) and first-year students (n = 108; 71%), followed by second-year students (n = 27; 18%). Most were Caucasians (n = 96; 63%) and African Americans (n = 42; 28%), followed by Asian/Pacific Islanders (n = 8; 5%) and other (4%).

Materials

Personality

Thirty items from the international personality item pool assessed neuroticism, extraversion and openness [International Personality Item Pool (IPIP), 2001]. The IPIP is in the public domain (no cost) and has been correlated with other reliable and valid measures of personality, most notably the NEO Personality Inventory—Revised (NEO PI-R) (see IPIP, 2001). (The latter is copyrighted and requires permission and incurs financial cost). Each dimension was measured with 10 items describing character tendencies for self-rating (1 = very inaccurate and 5 = very accurate). An example item for neuroticism is ‘I get irritated easily’, for extraversion is ‘I am the life of the party’ and for openness is ‘I am full of ideas’. All dimensions had acceptable reliabilities, exceeding 0.70 (0.89, 0.89 and 0.79, respectively).

Stress appraisals

Past research using similar samples has used a ratio of single items to assess primary and secondary appraisals (Tomaka et al., 1993). The items have predictive validity and are related to psychological, physiological and behavioural stress responses in a variety of performance domains (Blascovich et al., 2004; Schneider, 2008; Seery et al., 2010; Tomaka et al., 1993). An expanded stressor appraisal scale also predicts stress outcomes (Schneider, 2008).

The present study used two items to assess primary appraisals: how threatening do you think the upcoming task will be and how demanding do you think the upcoming task will be (Schneider, 2008)? The items were correlated (r = 0.57) and were averaged to create a composite. Two items assessed secondary appraisals: how able are you to cope with this task and how well do you think you will perform on this task? These items were correlated (r = 0.68) and were averaged to create a composite. A ratio of the composites (primary/secondary) generated appraisal scores, where higher scores denote threat.

State affect

The positive and negative affective scale (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) assessed state affect. The scale has 20 items, 10 for positive affect (interested, excited, inspired and alert) and 10 for negative affect (distressed, nervous, scared and upset). The reliability for both was acceptable (0.88 and 0.88, respectively).

Demographics

Participants provided their sex, age, race and year in school.

Stimuli

Mental arithmetic task

Participants performed a vocal mental math task, a valid stressor, which evokes psychological (appraisals and affect) and physiological reactivity and has been used as an active coping task (Obrist, 1981) in similar populations (Kelsey, Blascovich, Leitten et al., 2000; Kelsey, Blascovich, Tomaka et al., 1999). Instructions were pre-recorded for consistent delivery:

For the next part of the experiment we would like you to perform a vocal mental arithmetic task consisting of rapid serial subtractions by steps of seven. Your task is to count backwards out loud by sevens starting from a four-digit number. For example, starting with the number 1000 and counting backward out loud by seven would go something like this, “1000, 993, 986, 979, 972, 965, and so on.” We would like you to perform this task as quickly and as accurately as you can for several minutes. Do you have any questions?

The task duration was 3 min. Performance was indexed by total number of responses and a per cent correct score to account for errors.

Procedure

The study was approved by the university's internal review board. Upon arrival to the experiment, consent was obtained. Participants were led to a sound-dampened room with speakers to communicate task instructions, a computer monitor and a wireless keyboard. IPIP and demographics were administered. Task instructions were presented, followed immediately by appraisal and state affect assessments, and the task commenced. Then, participants were debriefed.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. REFERENCES
Analysis plan

Firstly, we investigated the relative influence of the three personality factors on stress responses to a novel mental math stressor using regression analysis. Then, a hierarchical regression was conducted to investigate the relative influence of personality, appraisals and affect on performance. Lastly, we ran analyses to investigate whether appraisals mediate the link between personality and stress outcomes (affect and performance).

Regression analysis

To examine the unique influence of personality on stress responses, neuroticism, extraversion and openness were regressed on the appraisal ratio, positive affect, negative affect, total subtractions and per cent of correct subtractions, respectively. Sex was used as a control variable when it was correlated with other variables in the model (see Table 1). Table 2 presents all regression analyses. The three personality variables accounted for 8.4% of the variance in appraisals (a small to medium effect; Cohen, 1992), F(3,148) = 4.50, p < 0.01.1 The betas show that neuroticism alone predicted higher threat, and openness was marginally related to lower threat. Personality accounted for 10.2% of the variance in positive affect,2F(3,148) = 5.59, p < 0.01. Neuroticism predicted lower positive affect, and extraversion predicted higher positive affect. Personality accounted for 18.4% of the variance in negative affect,3F(3,148) = 11.14, p < 0.01. Neuroticism predicted higher negative affect, whereas extraversion and openness predicted lower negative affect. Personality was regressed on number of subtractions. The first step included sex (accounting for 5% of the variance,4F(1,151) = 7.88, p < 0.01), and the second step added personality, which accounted for an additional 12.5% of the variance, ΔF(4,148) = 7.84, p < 0.01. Men and those higher in openness attempted more subtractions. Personality was regressed on per cent correct subtractions. The first step included sex (accounting for 4% of the variance,5F(1,151) = 6.32, p < 0.05); the second step added personality which did not increase predictive utility, ΔF(4,148) = 2.31, p = 0.06. Men were more accurate than women. Lastly, the bottom of Table 2 presents findings for the hierarchical regression, which investigated the relative contribution of personality and more proximal stressor variables (appraisals and affect) on task performance. Sex accounted for 4.3% of the variance, F(1,150) = 6.81, p < 0.01. Then, personality accounted for an additional 12.2% of the variance, ΔF(3,147) = 7.14, p < 0.01. Finally, stress process variables, such as appraisals, positive affect and negative affect, were included and accounted for an additional 6.5% of the variance (for a total of 19.2%), ΔF(3,144) = 4.03, p < 0.01. Openness and challenge appraisals uniquely predicted more subtractions.

Table 1. Correlations among demographics, personality, appraisals, affect and performance
 23456789Age
  • Note:

  • Appraisals: Higher scores denote threat.

  • Sex: 1 = female and 2 = male.

  • **

    p < 0.01.

  • *

    p < 0.05.

  • p < 0.10.

1. Neuroticism−0.26**−0.22**0.24**−0.24**0.35**−0.23*−0.12−0.22**0.05
2. Extraversion 0.23**−0.150.25**−0.27**0.16−0.02−0.11−0.16*
3. Openness  −0.20*0.17*−0.27**0.31**0.130.070.02
4. Appraisals   −0.32**0.51**−0.35**−0.33**−0.17*−0.08
5. Positive affect    −0.22**−0.020.030.080.16
6. Negative affect     −0.35**−0.22**−0.19*−0.08
7. Total responses      0.54**0.27*0.08
8. Per cent correct       0.20*0.06
9. Sex        0.20*
Table 2. Regression analyses predicting stress outcomes
Stress outcomePredictorBetaBeta PModel P
  • Note:

  • Appraisal ratio: Higher scores denote threat.

  • Sex: 1 = female and 2 = male.

  • **

    p < 0.01.

  • *

    p < 0.05.

  • p < 0.10.

AppraisalsNeuroticism0.190.03*0.005**
Extraversion−0.070.42
Openness−0.140.08
Positive affectNeuroticism−0.170.04*0.001**
Extraversion0.180.03*
Openness0.090.29
Negative affectNeuroticism0.270.00**0.000**
Extraversion−0.160.05*
Openness−0.170.03*
Total subtractions
Step 1Sex0.220.01**0.006**
Step 2Sex0.180.02*0.000**
Neuroticism−0.090.27
Extraversion0.030.70
Openness0.320.00**
Per cent correct subtractions
Step 1Sex0.200.01**0.013*
Step 2Sex0.170.04*0.060
Neuroticism−0.070.44
Extraversion−0.040.62
Openness0.120.17
Hierarchical regression: total subtractions
Step 1Sex0.210.01**0.010**
Step 2Sex0.170.03*0.000**
Neuroticism−0.100.24
Extraversion0.040.63
Openness0.300.00**
Step 3Sex0.130.090.000**
Neuroticism−0.050.52
Extraversion0.020.85
Openness0.260.00**
Appraisal ratio−0.210.02*
Positive affect−0.090.27
Negative affect−0.110.22

Mediation analysis

Mediation analyses investigated whether personality influenced stress outcomes through appraisals. The bivariate relationships (Table 1) show that neuroticism and openness are significantly related to appraisals and to three stress outcomes, such as positive affect, negative affect and total responses. Given the two personality variables and three outcome variables, six meditational analyses were computed. A mediation analysis involves three steps. The first two regressions show that the mediator and dependent variable are related to the independent variable (IV) of interest (personality), whereas the third regression assesses the predictive utility of the IV with the mediator (appraisals) present in the regression (Kenny, Kashy, & Bolger, 1998). Mediation is demonstrated by a simultaneous non-significant influence of the IV and a significant influence of the mediator on the outcome variable.

Neuroticism predicts lower positive affect (β = −0.24, p < 0.01) and higher threat (β = 0.24, p < 0.01). The simultaneous regression (with indirect effects reported here and for subsequent mediation analyses) revealed that neuroticism still predicts lower positive affect (β = −0.18, p < 0.05) with threat in the model (β = −0.28, p < 0.01; no mediation). Neuroticism predicts higher negative affect (β = 0.35, p < 0.01) and threat (as mentioned earlier). The simultaneous regression revealed that neuroticism still predicts higher negative affect (β = 0.24, p < 0.01) with threat in the model (β = 0.45, p < 0.01; no mediation). Neuroticism predicts fewer subtractions (β = −0.21, p < 0.01) and threat (as mentioned earlier). The simultaneous regression revealed that neuroticism indirectly worsened performance (β = −0.15, NS) through higher threat (β = −0.30, p < 0.01). A Sobel test (z = 1.66, p < 0.05) confirmed that appraisals mediated the effect of neuroticism on worse performance (Sobel, 1982).

Openness predicts higher positive affect (β = 0.17, p < 0.05) and lower threat (β = −0.20, p < 0.05). The simultaneous regression revealed that openness indirectly increased positive affect (β = 0.11, NS) through lower threat appraisals (β = −0.30, p < 0.01). However, a Sobel test (z = −1.33, p < 0.10) did not confirm that appraisals mediated the effect of openness on positive affect (Sobel, 1982). Openness predicts lower negative affect (β = −0.27, p < 0.01) and lower threat (as mentioned earlier). The simultaneous regression revealed that openness still predicts lower negative affect (β = −0.18, p < 0.05) with threat in the model (β = 0.47, p < 0.01; no mediation). Openness predicts more subtraction (β = 0.34, p < 0.01) and lower threat (as mentioned earlier). The simultaneous regression revealed that openness still predicts more subtractions (β = 0.29, p < 0.01) with threat in the model (β = −0.27, p < 0.01; no mediation).

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. REFERENCES

This is the first study to investigate the unique contribution of neuroticism, extraversion and openness on stressor appraisals—the purported initiator of the stress process—and other stress outcomes including state affect and performance. The findings show that neuroticism, extraversion and openness are significantly and uniquely related to aspects of the stress process and that personality sometimes works though appraisals to impact stress responses.

Specifically, we found that neuroticism uniquely predicts higher threat appraisals, lower positive affect and higher negative affect. These findings complement past research (Schneider, 2004). Craske (1999), an anxiety disorder researcher, has suggested that neuroticism should foster threat perceptions in a variety of novel situations, and the present study found that neuroticism alone predicted greater threat. In the present study, neuroticism did not uniquely predict task performance, contrary to past research (Schneider, 2004). However, mediation analyses revealed that those high in neuroticism performed worse on the stressful task, to the extent that they experienced higher threat appraisals. That is, poor performance for those who were higher in neuroticism depended upon their being more threatened. This finding aligns with past research (Schneider, 2004). Neuroticism predicts stress outcomes, but there are also positive aspects of personality that have implications for the stress process.

Extraversion was expected to foster challenge appraisals of an impending stressor—given a tendency toward perceptions of lower stressor demands and greater ability to cope with task demands (Suls, 2001). Unexpectedly, extraversion was not related to appraisals. However, extraversion did uniquely predict higher positive affect and lower negative affect, suggesting that it does play a role in the stress process. To capture aspects of extraversion beyond these affective components, future research should examine social stressors, such as generating and giving a speech, which may yield effects of extraversion on stressor appraisals and task performance.

Openness was only marginally related to challenge but uniquely predicted lower negative affect and more subtractions. Our mediation analyses revealed that higher positive affect for those higher in openness depends upon their experience of less threat. Past research has demonstrated benefits for openness on stress responses. Penley and Tomaka (2002) found that those higher in openness performed better on a speech stressor (Penley & Tomaka, 2002). In another study, Oswald et al. (2006) found that the ‘actions’ and ‘ideas’ facets of openness (NEO PI) predicted lower cortisol responses (associated with less objective stress) to an impending social stress test. However, in the latter study, neither appraisals nor affective responses were assessed, nor was there investigation of the unique effects of personality on stress responses. The tendency to be open to exploring new situations should foster an approach orientation to novel stressors, including fostering challenge appraisals (which it did marginally in the present study) and positively impact other stress outcomes such as performance during a stressor as it did in the present study. Future research should continue to explore the role of openness in fostering beneficial stress outcomes, particularly appraisals as they mediate the relationship between openness and pertinent stress outcomes.

The present study also examined the unique influence of distal (personality) and proximal stress responses (appraisals and affect) on performance (number of subtractions). We found that both distal (openness) and proximal (stressor appraisals) variables uniquely influence important stress outcomes, such as task performance. Those higher in openness and those challenged in response to the task performed better on the task. Beyond examining the unique influence of personality on stress outcomes, the finding that openness uniquely predicts better task performance contributes to the literature by adding a new focus whereby practitioners can select for factors, beyond neuroticism and extraversion that improve performance during a stressor. By investigating the unique effects of personality, the dimensions of which are often modestly correlated, we can begin to understand more about how people who score high on these dimensions experience and respond to stressors.

The present findings also revealed that appraisals predict task performance beyond personality and that those who are challenged outperform those who are threatened. Threat perceptions negatively bias information processing (Barrett, Rapee, Dadds, & Ryan, 1996) and retrieval (Furnham & Cheng, 1996; Rusting, 1999) of emotionally relevant information and may interfere with task performance. Research shows that challenge appraisals predict better performance on impending mental math stressors (Kelsey, Blascovich, Leitten et al., 2000; Kelsey, Blascovich, Tomaka et al., 1999; Schneider, 2004, 2008; Tomaka et al., 1993). Other research shows that appraisals of a speech task about performing in one's sport predicted actual sport performance in the following season (Blascovich et al., 2004). In that study, athletes gave a speech about their hypothetical sport performance. Athletes who were challenged in response to the speech task performed better in their sport 6 months later compared with those who were threatened by the speech task. Research has extended these findings, showing that appraisals predict training performance on a complex task (Gildea, Schneider, & Shebilske, 2007). Complex tasks require 10 or more hours to learn well, a high percentage of those who attempt to learn the task never do, and novices are overwhelmed (Schneider, 1985). Challenged individuals outperformed threatened participants on learning and performing the complex task. Clearly, the findings that appraisals predict performance is not new, but that appraisals uniquely predict performance is a new finding. This finding highlights a malleable way to influence performance. By fostering challenge appraisals, performance on active coping tasks where one has some control (e.g. mental math, speech giving, athletics and training) should be enhanced. Past research has measured appraisals similarly using an appraisal ratio to determine an individual's ranking on the challenge–threat continuum. One contribution of the present research was investigating this ratio, expanding on the findings of Penley and Tomaka (2002), who found patterns of correlation with either the primary or secondary appraisal measures, but not their ratio. Research has demonstrated that investigation of the interplay of primary and secondary appraisals is required to predict performance—neither alone suffices (Gildea et al., 2007). Moreover, secondary appraisals are not merely a representation of efficacy (one's confidence in her or his ability to perform well) but are a more generalized coping assessment.

As with any study, there are several limitations of the present research. One is the use of a single, validated active coping task. Other types of stressors might have different relationships with various facets of the personality dimensions. For example, previously, we mentioned the potential for the use of a social stressor to examine its relation with extraversion. However, past research has investigated the influence of appraisals on performing a complex task (Gildea et al., 2007), rather than a relatively simple task such as a mental math or speech stressor. Another study limitation could be the way we assessed personality. Although we did not use the more standard NEO PI to assess personality, we did find that the magnitude of our bivariate associations was comparable to others using the NEO PI (Penley & Tomaka, 2002; Schneider, 2004). Additionally, moving beyond global assessments to assessing different facets of a personality dimension would show facet importance in predicting stress responses and should further refine our efforts to develop a deep understanding of personality–stress outcome relationships. For example, we assessed openness to reflect curiosity and thinking, and it was uniquely related to mental math performance. ‘Openness to experience’ is a facet describing a tendency toward being imaginative, artistic and non-conforming, and it might not have yielded significant relationships (also see Oswald et al., 2006). Future research should use more extensive measures of the facets of neuroticism, extraversion and openness and investigate their relation to stress outcomes in a variety of contexts.

Another limitation of this study is the lack of baseline affective measures. However, past research measuring baseline affect has found that baseline affect levels do not predict affective reactivity to an impending novel stressor (Lyons & Schneider, 2009; Schneider, 2004, 2008). In contrast to the experience of an emotion in response to an event, such as a novel stressor, baseline affect levels are generally moderate to low and should not influence event-related emotional responses (Cacioppo & Berntson, 1994). However, personality offers a relatively stable way of being that should (and does) influence how novelty is approached (or avoided), including how impending stressors are evaluated (Lazarus, 1999) and their associated affective responses (Forgas, 1993; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

Lastly, a limitation characteristic of research in psychology and of this study is the use of a college student sample. There has been much discussion about this limitation and its influence on the generalizability of study results to the broader population, which is often the goal of psychological scientists (Crano & Brewer, 2002). It is likely that the experience and abilities of college students are different from those who do not go to university. However, these group differences likely play a minor role in the results of studies which focus on basic human processes such as personality and affect. Indeed, a study utilizing a non-college sample of adult men (ages 45 to 97) had findings similar to the present study (which included mostly women)—that neuroticism was related to higher negative affect and extraversion was related to higher positive affect (Griffin, Mroczek, & Spiro, 2006).

There are numerous practical implications of this research. Along with focusing on identifying and solving problems (Searle, 2008), stress management programmes might focus on ways to temporarily foster openness to experience to facilitate stress resilience and enhanced task performance. Future research could help to discern whether these interventions should focus on particular facets of openness. It is difficult to change personality, but altering state mastery goal orientation may be an avenue to instil challenge (Smoll, Smith, & Cumming, 2007). A mastery goal orientation would be facilitated by encouraging errors during learning, rather than focusing on accuracy. This orientation would impact the more malleable stress appraisal process. Past research has shown that stress management interventions which target how employees evaluate their work situations can reduce burnout (van Dierendonck, Schaufeli, & Buunk, 1998). Organizations emphasize that employees should be adaptable (Stokes, Schneider, & Lyons, 2010), and management is key to fostering employee adaptability. By encouraging a moderate amount of personal relevance in employees and enhancing their beliefs in their ability to manage the tasks, managers could foster challenge orientations within employees.

In summary, the present study shows that neuroticism has deleterious stress outcomes and that extraversion confers only a modest influence on stress. However, we add to the literature by demonstrating that openness uniquely confers stress benefits. The unique impact of openness on stress responses remained after controlling for other stress outcomes, such as appraisals and affective responses (the latter of which are related to neuroticism and extraversion). The findings also show the importance of stressor appraisals for predicting performance, a robust finding in its own right. The implications exist in the capacity to understand the human experience in response to stress and ways to foster stress resilience.

  • 1

    A hierarchical regression was computed regressing neuroticism, extraversion and openness on appraisals, controlling for sex and age. The first model, which included sex and age, was not significant, F(2,147) = 2.37, NS. Consequently, personality was regressed directly onto appraisals, as reported previously.

  • 2

    A hierarchical regression was computed controlling for sex and age; it was not significant, F(2,147) = 2.10, NS.

  • 3

    A hierarchical regression was computed controlling for sex and age; it was not significant, F(2,147) = 3.05, NS.

  • 4

    A hierarchical regression controlled for sex and age. Age was not significant and was excluded from the analysis.

  • 5

    A hierarchical regression controlled for sex and age. Age was not significant and was excluded from the analysis.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. REFERENCES
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