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Cognitive Processes Underlying Coping Flexibility: Differentiation and Integration


  • The authors would like to thank Alison Lo, Chi-yue Chiu, Doris Leung, and Boris Choy for valuable comments, and Chin-man Chui and Hiu-kam Wong for research assistance.

  • Preparation of this article was supported by Research Grants Council's Competitive Earmarked Research Grant HKUST6049/98H and Direct Allocation Grant DAG99/00.HSS02 to the first author.

concerning this article should be addressed to Cecilia Cheng, Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Electronic mail may be sent to


Abstract This study investigates how individuals formulate flexible coping strategies across situations by proposing differentiation and integration as two stress-appraisal processes. Results showed that participants who coped more flexibly adopted the dimensions of controllability and impact in differentiating among different stressful situations. They also deployed an integrated strategy: the deployment of more monitoring in situations perceived as controllable but less of this strategy in situations perceived as uncontrollable. Participants who coped less flexibly did not adopt any given dimensions and tended to use more monitoring regardless of situational characteristics. These results suggest that individuals with different extents of coping flexibility differ in the cognitive processes. Individuals who cope more flexibly display a greater extent of differentiation and integration than do those who cope less flexibly. These findings are translated into strategies for stress management workshops.