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Examining Relations Between Stress Generation and Inferential Style At Micro and Macro Levels



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The generation of stress, or the amount of life events that are influenced at least partially by individuals, is a phenomenon that was initially observed in individuals with depressive symptoms. Stress generation (SG) is also observed when individuals are in remission from depression (e.g., Daley et al., 1997), with other forms of psychopathology (e.g., anxiety; Auerbach et al., 2012), and in non-depressed samples (e.g., Chun, Cronkite & Moos, 2004). Researchers have examined the impact that various individual difference factors have on the occurrence of SG, including cognitive vulnerability factors such as negative cognitive styles (i.e., attributing negative events to internal, stable, and global causes, and associating negative events with negative consequences and negative self-implications; Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy, 1989). However, researchers examining negative cognitive styles and SG have only assessed styles as they relate to hypothetical events; no researchers have examined the relation between SG and inferential styles for real-life events. Further, SG research defines SG as a tendency for individuals to experience greater objectively identified dependent events (i.e., based on team ratings) and has not considered participants’ perspectives of the dependence of their life events. The purpose of my dissertation was to address these limitations. In Study 1, I examined whether negative cognitive styles for hypothetical events related to inferential style for real-life events. I also examined the relation between inferential style for real-life events (i.e., a pattern of consistently attributing events to more internal or external causes, which is identified by comparing participant ratings to ratings provided by a team of raters) and SG in university students (83 females, 20 males, 3 undeclared, M age = 19.56). SG was measured two different ways: (a) using the traditional method (i.e., team ratings, labeled observer ratings); and (b) using the participants’ own ratings of dependence, labeled actor ratings. Inferential style and depressive symptoms correlated with actor reported dependent events (i.e., SG). However, an internal cognitive style for hypothetical events did not correlate with actor reported dependent events. Contrary to expectations, none of my control variables correlated with observer rated dependent events (i.e., traditional SG). Unexpectedly, depressive symptoms correlated with both actor and observer rated independent events. Study 2 expanded upon Study 1 by examining whether inferential style for real-life events was associated with subsequent SG or future life events at the daily level. Specifically, in Study 2, I attempted to address this gap by examining the relation between inferential style for real-life events and SG at the daily level in university students (73 females, 30 males, M age = 20.14). Participants completed self-report measures of negative life events, depressive symptoms, cognitive styles for hypothetical events, self-reflection, and insight. Self-monitoring the dependence of events did not influence inferential style across the days of study. However, self-monitoring (i.e., reporting daily) was associated with a decrease in all types of events over the course of data collection. Inferential style positively related to actor dependent events and observer independent events. In contrast, inferential style was negatively associated with actor independent events. It was not, however, significantly related to observer dependent events. None of the examined control variables, including trait levels of self-reflection and insight, significantly influenced the relation between inferential style and daily stressful events. Taken together, the results provide some of the first evidence for the role of inferential style in actor SG at both macro and micro levels. As well, the results provide inconsistent support for the generalization of cognitive styles (for hypothetical events) to inferential styles (for real-life events), at both macro and micro levels. Overall, the findings highlight the importance of considering the participants’ subjective experience in subsequent SG research, given that individual difference factors I studied were differentially associated with actor- and observer SG.



stress generation research, inferential style, internal cognitive styles, daily stress generation



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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