Coping flexibility and psychological adjustment to stressful life changes: a meta-analytic review

  • Cheng C
  • Lau H
  • Chan M
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Compared with the large body of literature on coping, coping flexibility has received relatively scant research attention, although more such studies have begun to emerge recently. Researchers have conceptualized coping flexibility in diverse ways: as a broad coping repertoire, a well-balanced coping profile, cross-situational variability in strategy deployment, a good strategy–situation fit, or the perceived ability to cope with environmental changes. This meta-analysis is the first to provide a summary estimate of the overall effect size and investigate cross-study sources of variation in the beneficial role of coping flexibility. The analysis covers all available studies conducted between 1978 and 2013 that empirically tested the relationship between coping flexibility and psychological adjustment. The results of a random-effects model revealed a small to moderate overall mean effect size (r = .23, 95% CI [.19, .28], 80% CRI [–.02, .49], k = 329, N = 58,946). More important, the magnitude of the positive link between coping flexibility and psychological adjustment varied with the conceptualization of such flexibility. Studies adopting the perceived ability or strategy–situation fit conceptualization yielded moderate effect sizes, whereas those adopting the broad repertoire, balanced profile, or cross-situational variability conceptualization yielded small effect sizes. In addition, the positive link between coping flexibility and psychological adjustment was stronger in samples from countries lower (vs. higher) in individualism and samples with higher (vs. lower) average ages. Individualism and age explained 10% and 13% of the variance, respectively. We discuss the conceptual problems and implications and propose a synthesized conceptualization of coping flexibility. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved). (journal abstract)

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