Proactive and preventive coping in adjustment to college.
Abstract: The current study compared the relative importance of proactive coping and preventive coping in the adjustment to university life among 403 freshmen at a Chinese university and evaluated the function of proactive coping in the stress process. Participants completed the Future-Oriented Coping Inventory (Gan, Yang, Zhou, & Zhang, 2007), the Student-Life Stress Inventory (Gadzella, 1994), and the College Maladjustment Scale (Kleinmuntz, 1960). Bolger and Zuckerman's (1995) differential exposure model of personality was borrowed to examine whether the students were exposed to different levels of current stress and to explore the impact of stress on maladjustment. The results suggest that stress has a mediating effect between proactive coping and maladjustment but not between preventive coping and maladjustment. The results also suggest that only proactive coping plays an important role in university adjustment, and proactive coping is a dispositional trait rather than a coping strategy.

Key words: proactive coping, mediating effect, freshman, adjustment
Article Type: Report
Subject: Liquors
Authors: Gan, Yiqun
Hu, Yueqin
Zhang, Yiwen
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: The Psychological Record Publisher: The Psychological Record Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 The Psychological Record ISSN: 0033-2933
Issue: Date: Fall, 2010 Source Volume: 60 Source Issue: 4
Product: Product Code: 2085000 Liquor NAICS Code: 31214 Distilleries SIC Code: 2085 Distilled and blended liquors
Accession Number: 242454422
Full Text: Adjusting to university life is a major transition for young adults, as they have to overcome the unfamiliarity of the university environment (Blimling & Miltenberger, 1981). Therefore, entering college is by nature a stressful experience. According to a survey by Fan (2000), 86.6% of first-year Chinese students perceived high stress in their academic life, 55.3% in their social life, and 32.5% in their finances. These academic, interpersonal, and financial challenges require adequate coping responses in order to avoid maladjustment, which has been suggested to be a major cause of poor academic performance and dropouts (e.g., Baker & Siryk, 1984). Considering the pivotal role of adjustment, a great amount of research has been conducted to explore the factors contributing to the successful adjustment of college students. These factors can be classified into three categories--dispositional, environmental, and situational variables.

Self-esteem and personality are the most frequently studied dispositional variables influencing freshman adjustment (e.g., Devonport & Lane, 2006). In one study, Sasaki and Yamasaki (2007) examined the role of dispositional coping and found that dispositional emotion-focused coping predicts poor health status in university freshmen. Environmental variables, such as perceived stress, parental education, living environment, and so forth, also contribute to college adaptation (e.g., Hertel, 2002). With respect to situational variables, coping is the most frequently investigated factor. Aspinwall and Taylor (1992) found that most of the predicted effects of relative factors on adjustment were mediated by coping methods. Several other studies examined the role of different coping tactics on adjustment (e.g., Jorgensen & Dusek, 1990; Piko, 2001). In the current study, we focused on the effects of dispositional coping, stress level, and situational coping on freshman adjustment, especially the effects of proactive coping and preventive coping, which serve as both dispositional and situational variables.

The Concept of Proactive and Preventive Coping

The concept and theory of proactive coping and preventive coping comes from the theoretical tradition of Lazarus and colleagues (Lazarus, 1993; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). In this view, coping is defined as "the cognitive, behavioral efforts to manage particular external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding resources of the person" (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 141). Although anticipation of harm or loss is essential to this widely accepted definition, traditional coping models emphasize the reactive nature of coping and focus attention on how people cope with past or ongoing stressors. Therefore, it is also called reactive coping by Schwarzer and Taubert (2002).

In contrast, proactive and preventive coping deal with anticipated stressful events that have not occurred. In the extant literature on stress and coping, proactive coping and preventive coping represent the influence of positive psychology (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1997).

According to Schwarzer's proactive coping theory (Schwarzer, 2000; Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002), an emphasis on the time perspective distinguishes reactive, preventive, and proactive coping. Proactive coping is defined as efforts to strive actively to seek new challenges, create new opportunities, and facilitate promotion toward challenging goals so that they will be less negative, whereas preventive coping refers to the process by which a person builds up resources and resistance "just in case" possible stressors occur in the distant future (Schwarzer, 2000).

Proactive and preventive coping therefore differ in two ways. First, proactive coping is based on challenge appraisal while preventive coping is based on threat appraisal (Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002). Second, in proactive coping, individuals take more constructive and purposeful actions (Greenglass, Schwarzer, & Taubert, 1999), while in preventive coping, individuals employ more defensive and general strategies (saving resources for future needs). In short, proactive coping is "goal management" and preventive coping is "risk management" (Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002).

With respect to the function of proactive and preventive coping, some researchers regard them as dispositional variables, while others treat them as transactional variables. In fact, coping is naturally a combination of dispositional and situational components. Carver, Scheier, and Weintraub (1989) related various coping styles to personality variables and found a moderate correlation. They also demonstrated a situational component to coping. Therefore, they conceptualized coping strategies as "stable preferences that may or may not be identified as personality traits" (p. 268). Proactive and preventive coping were positioned either as dispositional variables or transactional variables. For example, Ouwehand, de Ridder, and Bensing (2006) conducted an experiment examining the dispositional and situational predictors for proactive behaviors, and they employed proactive coping as a dispositional variable. In contrast, Gan et al. (2007) put proactive coping between stress and academic burnout and found a significant mediating effect. Therefore, it seems that the status of proactive and preventive coping is not clear.

Measurement of Proactive and Preventive Coping

Although it has been more than 10 years since Aspinwall and Taylor (1997) first developed a comprehensive model for preventive coping (they labeled it as proactive coping), there have been few instruments that adequately measure these constructs. Most empirical studies have focused on a specific stage or aspect of proactive and preventive coping (e.g., cognitive appraisal) and have seldom taken into consideration the whole construct. Yet, even when the whole construct is accounted for, researchers often assess it according to a specific situation (e.g., Ouwehand et al., 2006). In response to this gap in the literature, Greenglass, Schwarzer, and Jakubiec (1999) developed a multidimensional instrument consisting of 14 subscales to measure proactive coping. Seven of the subscales demonstrate adequate psychometric properties with respect to their item-total correlations and Cronbach's alphas (Greenglass et al., 1999). Based on their work, Gan et al. (2007) revised and validated the Future-Oriented Coping Inventory for Chinese university students. This instrument contains both a proactive and a preventive coping subscale, each consisting of eight items. The Cronbach's alphas for both subscales are above 0.80 (Gan et al., 2007).

At the present time, research extending our understanding of proactive and preventive coping among university students is limited. Most of the extant research on proactive coping has focused on populations that include the elderly, individuals who are functionally disabled, or persons diagnosed with severe mental illness. For example, Greenglass, Fiksenbaum, and Eaton (2006) examined the use of proactive coping among the elderly and its relationship to depression and functionality. The results showed that proactive coping was negatively associated with functional disability and depression (Greenglass et al., 2006). Uskul and Greenglass (2005) found that proactive coping and optimism predicted depression among Turkish-Canadian immigrants. In a study involving Chinese university students, Gan et al. (2007) found that proactive coping fully mediated the relationship between stress and engagement, whereas preventive coping partially mediated this relationship (Gan et al., 2007). However, to date, this is the only study that has examined proactive and preventive coping among university students.

Proactive coping and preventive coping have important implications for new students making the transition to university life. On the one hand, freshmen who possess the potential for proactive coping may see opportunities and enhance their own capacities. On the other hand, those with preventive coping skills may be able to recognize potential stressors, thereby eliminating problems at an earlier stage and experiencing fewer frustrations, such as failure in exams, financial strain, or interpersonal problems.

The Research Paradigm of Stressor Exposure and Stressor Reactivity

The current study employed Bolger and Zuckerman's (1995) differential exposure model of personality. Bolger and Zuckerman divided the stress process into two fundamental stages: stressor exposure and stressor reactivity. Exposure refers to the extent to which an individual experiences a stressful event. Reactivity refers to the extent to which an individual shows an emotional or physical reaction to a stressful event. Based on whether a personality variable affects either of the two stages, a two-by-two matrix can be obtained. There are therefore four conditions. In the first condition, personality does not affect either exposure or reactivity to stressors. This condition is called the null model. In the second condition, personality affects exposure but not reactivity to stressors. This condition is called the differential exposure model. In this condition, personality leads to exposure to stress, which, in turn, leads to outcomes. Stress acts as a mediator between personality and the outcomes of stress. In the third condition, there are personality differences in reactivity to stressors but no personality differences in exposure. In this condition, personality acts as a moderator between the effects of stressful events and their outcomes. This condition is referred to as the differential reactivity model. In the last condition, personality affects both exposure and reactivity to stressors. This condition is called the differential exposure-reactivity model. In this condition, mediating and moderating processes occur simultaneously.

The Current Study

Theoretical inferences and empirical studies have demonstrated the positive impact of proactive coping and preventive coping on individual adjustment. Moreover, much research has reviewed the common points of proactive coping and preventive coping (e.g., Greenglass, 2002). However, the relative importance of proactive coping, preventive coping, and the mechanism of functioning has not been carefully delineated by the extant literature. In particular, there has been little empirical exploration of the differences between proactive coping and preventive coping. Therefore, the first objective of the current study was to compare the role of proactive coping and preventive coping in adjustment to university life among new students at a Chinese university.

Because the function of proactive and preventive coping is still ambiguous, in this study we employed both dispositional and transactional perspectives in order to clarify the issue. If there are transactional components in proactive and preventive coping, they should mediate the relationship between stress and adjustment as found by Aspinwall and Taylor (1992) and Gan et al. (2007). Meanwhile, if there are dispositional components in proactive and preventive coping, we could follow the research paradigm of stressor exposure and stressor reactivity (Bolger & Zuckerman, 1995) and regard proactive and preventive coping as personality in the model. In short, the second objective was to explore the extent to which proactive and preventive coping could be regarded as personality characteristics.

Moreover, we were curious about where the effect of dispositional proactive and preventive coping takes place. Could it serve to reduce the stresses to which an individual is exposed, or could it influence the relationship between stress and maladjustment? The third objective of this study, therefore, was to explore the mechanism of dispositional proactive and preventive coping and its influence on freshman adjustment by applying Bolger and Zuckerman's (1995) model.

Based on this discussion, we proposed four hypotheses. First, proactive coping will be more highly correlated with maladjustment than preventive coping. Second, proactive and preventive coping will influence maladjustment through the mediating effect of stress. Third, proactive and preventive coping will moderate the relationship between stress and maladjustment. Fourth, proactive and preventive coping will mediate the relationship between stress and maladjustment, as previous studies have shown. If this mediating effect is smaller than that in Hypothesis 2, proactive/preventive coping is more of a dispositional variable; otherwise, proactive/preventive coping is proved to be a transactional variable.



Four hundred and twenty-three college freshmen were recruited from two major universities in Beijing, four weeks after their college orientation. Twenty students had incomplete data or random responses and their records were excluded. Within the remaining sample of 403 students, 213 were male (52.9%) and 188 were female (46.7%). Participants' ages ranged from 16 to 20 years, with a mean age of 18.30 years (SD = 0.76). One hundred and thirty-five (61.4%) participants majored in liberal arts and social sciences, 77 (35%) participants majored in science, and 8 (3.6%) participants did not indicate their college major.


The Future-Oriented Coping Inventory. The Future-Oriented Coping Inventory (Gan et al., 2007) was based on the Proactive Coping Inventory originally developed by Greenglass et al. (1999). It includes a proactive coping subscale and a preventive coping subscale, each consisting of eight items. The scales describe participants' potential behaviors and attitudes in response to future stressors. Participants are required to give a numerical response based on a four-point Likert-scale indicating their agreement with each sentence (1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = agree, 4 = strongly agree). The Future-Oriented Coping Inventory has demonstrated good reliability and validity among Chinese university students (Gan et al., 2007). The Cronbach's alphas of these two scales were found to be 0.77 and 0.74, respectively, in the current study.

Student-Life Stress Inventory. The Student-Life Stress Inventory (SSI) was originally developed by Gadzella (1994). It was adapted for Chinese participants by Wang and Wang (1998). The SSI is a 51-item questionnaire designed for university students with a Likert-scale rating indicating frequency of specific stressor experiences (1 = never, 2 = seldom, 3 = occasionally, 4 = often, 5 = most of the time). The SSI consists of two sections: Types of Stressors and Reactions to Stressors. Only the Types of Stressors section, consisting of 23 items, was used in the current study. The Reactions to Stressors section overlaps with the College Maladjustment Scale and thus was not used in the current study. The Types of Stressors section is comprised of five categories: frustrations, conflicts, pressures, changes, and self-imposed stressors. Scores are calculated for each category and section by summing the responses for each item. The SSI has previously demonstrated good internal consistency and reliability (Gadzella, 1994). In the current study, four out of five scales had Cronbach's alphas over 0.60. The self-imposed stressors scale had a low Cronbach's alpha and was deleted in further analyses.

College Maladjustment Scale (Mt). The College Maladjustment Scale (Mt) was developed by Kleinmuntz (1960). This scale consists of 43 items that were selected from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory item pool. The response form is in a yes/no format. The measure was adapted for Chinese participants by Ji (2004). In the current study, confirmatory factor analysis indicated a one-factor structure of this scale. The scale has been validated and demonstrates adequate psychometric properties indicating that it is a sensitive instrument for measuring college maladjustment (Merker & Smith, 2001). In the current study, the measure had a Cronbach's alpha of 0.81.


Data were collected in two batches. The first batch (220 cases) was collected in September of 2006. The second batch (203 cases) was collected in September of 2007. Participants were selected through convenience sampling. There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of demographics and questionnaire responses. All participants completed the questionnaires anonymously and on a voluntary basis. Each participant received a gift of a book after completing the questionnaires.


Descriptive statistics and correlations. The means, standard deviations, and correlations among proactive and preventive coping, sources of stress, and maladjustment are shown in Table 1. The results indicated that different sources of stress were all significantly correlated to maladjustment, with their sum revealing the highest correlation (r = 0.56). Proactive and preventive coping showed diverse correlation patterns with stressors. Proactive coping was significantly correlated with all of the stressors, while preventive coping was correlated with frustration only. Both of the coping measures were significantly correlated to maladjustment. The correlation between proactive coping and maladjustment was -0.42, while the correlation between preventive coping and maladjustment was -0.198. The difference between these two correlation coefficients is significant, z = -3.63, p

The Mediating Effect of Stress in the Relationships Between Proactive and Preventive Coping and Maladjustment. In order to explore the mediating effect of stress in the relationships between proactive and preventive coping and maladjustment, Baron and Kenny's (1986) approach was followed. Model 1 was first specified to depict the relationships between proactive and preventive coping and maladjustment. Due to the relatively small case-variable ratio, item parceling (Hall, Snell, & Singer Foust, 1999) was performed according to item loading rankings that were derived from an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) conducted prior to the path analysis procedure. Thus, three manifest variables (parcels) were found to load on proactive coping and preventive coping, respectively. Maladjustment was a single-indicator latent variable.

If an independent variable does not significantly correlate with the dependent variable, it is impossible for a third variable to mediate its relationship. Therefore, in the process of model fitting, the preventive coping variable was dropped because of its insignificant pathway coefficient with maladjustment. In Model 1, there are two latent variables: proactive coping and maladjustment. Model 1 resulted in a good fit (according to Hu & Bentler, 1999), [[chi].sup.2]/df= 2.575 < 3, CFI = 0.99, RMSEA = 0.064. Other fit indices are shown in Table 2. In Model 1, the path between proactive coping and maladjustment was -.44.

Next, stress was examined as a hypothesized mediator, which resulted in Model 1a. Stress has four manifest variables: frustration, conflicts, pressures, and changes. Model 1a resulted in an acceptable fit to the data, [[chi].sup.2]/df = 3.05 < 5, CFI = 0.96, RMSEA = 0.073. (For other fit indices please refer to Table 2.) The direct effect of proactive coping on maladjustment was reduced to -0.28. The indirect effect was -0.22. Sobel's test (Sobel, 1988) indicated that the indirect effect of proactive coping on maladjustment was significant, z = -5.24, p < 0.001. The path diagram of this mediating effect is shown in Figure 1.


In order to explore an alternative model (i.e., the mediating effects of proactive coping and preventive coping in the relationship between stress and maladjustment), we exchanged the positions of stress and proactive/preventive coping, using coping as the mediator. The initial model was called Model 2. In Model 2, there were two latent variables: stress and maladjustment. Model 2 resulted in an acceptable fit, [[chi].sup.2]/df= 3.066 < 5, CFI = 0.98, RMSEA = 0.073. The path between stress and maladjustment was 0.63.

Next, proactive coping and preventive coping were examined as hypothesized mediators, which resulted in Model 2a. Stress again has four manifest variables: frustration, conflicts, pressures, and changes. The direct effect of stress on maladjustment was reduced to 0.55. The indirect effect of proactive coping was -1.15. Sobel's test indicated that the indirect effect of proactive coping on maladjustment was significant, z = -3.23, p < 0.01. Model 2a resulted in a poor fit to the data, [[chi].sup.2]/df = 5.083 > 5, CFI = 0.89 < 0.90, RMSEA = 0.010 > 0.08, which indicates that the former order is more explanatory. (For other fit indices please refer to Table 2.) The indirect effect of preventive coping was -0.49. Sobers test indicated that the indirect effect of preventive coping to maladjustment was insignificant, z = -1.61, p > 0.05. The path diagram of this mediating effect is shown in Figure 2.


The Moderating Effects of Proactive and Preventive Coping in the Relationship Between Stressors and Maladjustment. In order to examine the moderating effects of proactive and preventive coping in the relationship between stressors and maladjustment, we followed the regression method described by Baron and Kenny (1986). First, proactive and preventive coping and stressors were centered, and their products were obtained to produce an interaction term. Hierarchical regression analyses were then applied. Age, gender, and major were entered in the first block, and stress was entered in the second block. In the third block, proactive and preventive coping variables were entered into the equation, and the interaction terms were entered in the fourth block. The incremental [R.sup.2] and regression coefficients are shown in Table 3.

The results of the hierarchical regression analyses indicated that coping did not have a moderating effect in both cases: for proactive coping, [beta] = -0.02, t = -.35, p > 0.05; for preventive coping, [beta] = -0.01, t = -0.23, p > 0.05.


The goal of the current study was to compare the role of proactive coping and preventive coping in adjustment to university life among new students at a Chinese university, and to explore to what extent proactive coping and preventive coping could be regarded as personality characteristics. The mechanism by which proactive and preventive coping takes place in the adjustment process was also examined.

One major difficulty with utilizing a cross-sectional design to study proactive coping is the manipulation of time. The stress that proactive coping deals with is in the future, so there should be a time lag between proactive coping and stress. Therefore, we applied the stress exposure-reactivity paradigm (Bolger & Zuckerman, 1995), which allowed us to examine the presence of a proactive coping transaction during the experienced stress of the transition to university life. By utilizing this model of the stress process, we were able to capture a retrospective perspective of each student's proactive coping before he or she entered the university, to examine whether students were exposed to different levels of current stress, and also to understand its impact on maladjustment. Of course, proactive and preventive coping lead to different exposures to stress, which, in turn, lead to different outcomes (i.e., maladjustment). Therefore, if low levels of stress are experienced, those who possess more proactive and preventive coping strategies should have a better adjustment to university life.

Overall Results

Hypothesis 1 was fully supported. Both proactive coping and preventive coping were negatively correlated with maladjustment, suggesting that proactive coping and preventive coping play positive roles in freshman adjustment. This result converges with the findings of past research, namely that proactively creating better living conditions and higher performance levels is beneficial (Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002). As proposed, the correlation between proactive coping and maladjustment was significantly stronger, which suggests that proactive coping has a more significant impact than preventive coping during the adjustment to university life. These results are similar to findings from other situations, such as engagement in schoolwork (Gan et al., 2007).

Hypothesis 2 was partially supported, for only proactive coping could influence maladjustment through stress. Hypothesis 3 was not supported by our empirical data. Neither proactive coping nor preventive coping moderated the association between stress and maladjustment. Finally, for Hypothesis 4, the current study indicated that it is better to regard proactive coping as a dispositional variable rather than a transactional variable. A detailed discussion is presented in the next section.

Comparison: Proactive Coping and Preventive Coping

In the current study, we found that the relationship between proactive coping and maladjustment was mediated by stress. However, the same mediating model did not apply to preventive coping. Moreover, when the positions of coping and stress were exchanged, proactive coping could still mediate the relationship between stress and maladjustment, whereas preventive coping could not mediate this relationship. From zero-order correlations, we found that preventive coping was not actually involved in specific real-life stressors. This result is not surprising given that, in preventive coping, efforts are concentrated toward building up general resources that are not aimed at targeting actual stressful events in the near future. In other words, unlike proactive coping, preventive coping is assumed to respond to personality traits more than to chronic or acute stressors (Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002). Therefore, the impact of preventive coping on freshman adjustment did not function through the process of exposure to stress. Freshman adjustment to university life in our study involves many possible time-limited and concrete stressful events that do not adequately correspond to the role of preventive coping. While the traditional view emphasizes the significance of preventive coping (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1997), recent empirical findings indicate that the concept of proactive coping proposed by Schwarzer and Taubert (2002) deserves more attention.

Proactive Coping: Dispositional or Transactional?

In the current study, proactive coping could have served as a personality trait to influence maladjustment through the mediating effect of stress. However, when using coping to mediate the relationship between stress and maladjustment, the model was evaluated as having a poor fit and its mediating effect was negligible. This could imply that proactive coping as measured by Greenglass et al. (1999) contains more dispositional components than transactional components. This result is consistent with the increased inclination to emphasize the dispositional aspects of coping (e.g., Ptacek, Pierce, & Thompson, 2006).

Researchers have found that the range of coping behavior is limited in an individual, there is a strong association between coping style and coping responses, and previous coping response is a strong predictor of coping in new situations (Ouwehand et al., 2006). All of this evidence solidifies the dispositional perspective of coping. Moreover, compared with other types of coping, such as problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping, proactive coping contains less situational information. By definition (Schwarzer, 2000), proactive coping includes problem-focused behavior, as well as emotion- and cognition-focused behavior. Therefore, it does not seem to be a coping strategy specified for a certain situation but a tendency to act ahead of time. Taking into account all the previous evidence and the results of the current study, we would prefer to regard proactive coping as a sort of dispositional trait or, in other words, a coping style rather than a coping strategy.

Effects of Stressor Exposure or Stressor Reactivity

By borrowing Bolger and Zuckerman's (1995) model of exposure-reactivity on the stress process, we were able to take a retrospective perspective on the proactive coping of students before they entered the university and examine whether they were exposed to different levels of current stress, in addition to examining the impact of stress on maladjustment. The results indicated that proactive coping could influence only the process of stressor exposure, not the process of stressor reactivity.

For the process of stressor exposure, stress had a mediating effect between proactive coping and maladjustment. High proactive coping was associated with low stress levels in university transition, which led to less maladjustment. This reveals that proactive coping acted as an effective buffer to the maladjustment resulting from the transition to university life. This result is consistent with the results from the study of Pancer, Hunsberger, Pratt, and Alisat (2000), which suggested that complex expectations about university life could serve as a stress buffer against freshman maladjustment. It is possible that students with higher scores on proactive coping put more forethought into their future university life, and this careful consideration helps them reduce the stress encountered. The process might be as follows: These students regard stressful situations as challenges and new opportunities and believe in the rich potential brought on by change, they use proactive coping techniques to change their environment, and therefore they experience lower stress levels upon entering the university. In turn, these students are less likely to experience maladjustment.

For the process of stressor reactivity, however, the proposed moderating effect was not supported by the data. The stressor reactivity model posits that a third variable may affect the impact of stressors on maladjustment. This third variable is usually dispositional, so variation of the association between stress and maladjustment may happen among different levels. In the current study, we anticipated dispositional proactive/preventive coping could play the role of moderator. However, neither proactive coping nor preventive coping was found to play a moderating role between the transition to university life and maladjustment in this study. Therefore, we cannot infer that those who possessed more proactive coping and preventive coping strategies were less likely to be negatively affected by the transition to university life. This is contrary to our hypothesis. The specificity of proactive coping and preventive coping might shed light on this result. As we have discussed, proactive coping is more of a coping style than a coping strategy, which only represents an inclination to think and act in advance. It is not a specified coping strategy corresponding to a certain situation and consequently cannot help reduce the effect of stressors on students once they are encountered. Still, the students may be able to use proactive coping to reduce the level of stress they experience and, through this, adjust to the new transition.


The current study distinguishes the functions of proactive coping and preventive coping and supports the positive role of proactive coping. While previous research suggests that both proactive coping and preventive coping have some functions in buffering stress (Gan et al., 2007), this study emphasizes the sole value of proactive coping that Schwarzer and Taubert (2002) proposed. Therefore, should the construct of preventive coping be modified to ensure its adaptive value? Or does preventive coping function at a different stage of coping? Further research could investigate these two possibilities.

Finally, the current study also makes an attempt to explore the dispositional versus transactional nature of proactive coping. Through mediation analyses, we concluded that proactive coping, at least by its current measure, is more dispositional than transactional.

This study has several practical implications. To freshmen just entering college, adjustment to university life is a primary goal. Some students with excellent performance in high school may become passive or even overwhelmed by university life. The reason may be due to an inability to cope during the transition from high school to college. The current study provides support for the value of proactive coping programs to be integrated into mental health education for new students entering college. For example, workshops on coping strategies and peer relationships could be set up during university orientation for new students. The idea of proactive coping could be conveyed to students so that they can take an active role in the face of stressors in ways that enhance personal growth. Additionally, focusing only on the development of personal resources geared toward academic challenges (e.g., exams) may not be sufficient for freshman students. Instead, individuals should prepare a variety of skills to deal with many different types of challenges.

Limitations and Directions to Future Research

The current study has some limitations that should be taken into consideration. First, although an effort was made to overcome the limitation of the time manipulation, the study still has a cross-sectional nature, which may not capture the reality of how the effect of proactive coping may emerge after a period of time. Therefore, further research should include follow-up results, which would be better able to reveal the dynamic process of stress, preventive coping, and adjustment. Second, future studies should include experimental manipulations, such as the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP; Barnes-Holmes, Hayden, Barnes-Holmes, & Stewart, 2008; Barnes-Holmes, Waldron, Barnes-Holmes, & Stewart, 2009), to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the process of adjustment to university life.


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This research was supported in part by grants from the Chinese National Office for Education Sciences Planning (Project Number: DBA080173).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Yiqun Gan, Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China. E-mail:

Yiqun Gan, Yueqin Hu, and Yiwen Zhang

Peking University

Table 1
The Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Among Variables Under
Study (n = 403)

                        M     SD     1        2        3

1. Frustrations       16.70  3.82  0.67
2. Conflicts           5.23  1.88   .35 **  0.66
3. Pressures          12.65  2.81   .52 **   .34 **  0.62
4. Change              8.71  2.27   .43 **   .34 **   .52 **
5. Sum of stressors   43.30  8.25   .84 **   .60 **   .80 **
6. Proactive coping   25.53  3.51  -.37 **  -.16 **  -.21 **
7. Preventive coping  26.03  3.31  -.11 *   -.07      .02
8. Maladjustment      18.55  6.69   .48 **   .23 **   .46 **

                        4        5        6         7       8

1. Frustrations
2. Conflicts
3. Pressures
4. Change             0.77
5. Sum of stressors    .73 **  0.83
6. Proactive coping   -.14 **  -.32 **   0.77
7. Preventive coping  -.03     -.06       .43 **   0.74
8. Maladjustment       .48 **   .56 **  -0.42 **  -0.20 *  0.81

Note. Numbers in bold indicate the Cronbach's alpha of each subscale.
** p < .05 (two-tailed). ** p < .01 (two-tailed).

Table 2
Fit Indices of the Path Models (n = 403)

Model  [X.sup.2]  df  [X.sup.2]/df    p     GFI

1         5.15     2     2.575      0.069  0.99
la       54.97    18     3.054      0.000  0.95
2        15.33     5     3.066      0.009  0.98
2a      207.68    40     5.192      0.000  0.91

Model  AGFI    AIC    CAIC    CFI  RMSEA

1      0.96   22.83   62.45  0.99  0.064
la     0.91  112.3   201.6   0.96  0.073
2      0.95   35.33   84.94  0.98  0.073
2a     0.86  255.34  384.33  0.89  0.010

Note. GFI = goodness of fit index; AGFI = adjusted goodness of fit
index; AIC = Akaike's information criteria; CAIC = consistent Akaike's
information criteria; CFI = comparative fit index; RMSEA = root mean
square error approximation.

Table 3
The Coefficients and [[DELTA]R.sup.2] of Hierarchical Regression Model
Predicting Maladjustment

Block      Independent           Beta          t             Sig.

1          age                   .033         .636           .525

           gender               -.003        -.059           .953

           major                -.147       -2.867           .004

[R.sup.2]                              [[DELTA]R.sup.2] =
                                        2.2%, p < .001

2          age                   .009         .209           .835

           gender                .025         .571           .569

           major                -.085       -1.965           .050

           stress                .549       12.822         < .001

[R.sup.2]                              [[DELTA]R.sup.2] =
                                        29.7%, p < .05

3          age                   .000        -.002           .998

           gender                .004         .108           .914

           major                -.054       -1.321           .187

           stress                .473       11.033         < .001

           proactive            -.238       -5.056         < .001

           preventive           -.075       -1.673           .095

[R.sup.2]                              [[DELTA]R.sup.2] =
                                        7.0%, p < .001

4          age                   .001         .034           .973

           gender                .004         .104           .917

           major                -.054       -1.305           .193

           stress                .474       10.625           .000

           proactive            -.241       -5.072           .000

           preventive           -.077       -1.695           .091

           Stress x proactive   -.017        -.352           .725

           Stress x preventive  -.011        -.231           .817

[R.sup.2]                              [[DELTA]R.sup.2] =
                                           0.1%, ns
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