Changes in coping throughout adulthood

Manfred Diehl, Helena Chui, Elizabeth L. Hay are part of the Adult Development and Aging Project (ADAPT) at Colorado State University. Their mission is “To contribute to the knowledge about healthy and successful adult development and aging through research, education, and collaborative outreach.” Dr. Diehl received his PhD in Human Development and Family Studies from Pennsylvania State University and is interested in psychological development throughout the course of adulthood.

The ADAPT team from Colorado State

Diehl, Chui, Hay, and colleagues performed a longitudinal study of the change in coping and defense mechanisms across adulthood. Starting in 1992, they recruited 392 adolescents and adults, the majority of which were of European American descent. 129 of the original sample completed data for all four samples, in 1992, 1994, 1998, and 2004. Participants were asked to two 2-hour testing sessions each time.

In order to measure coping and defense mechanisms, the California Psychological Inventory was used. Ego development was measured using Loevinger’s Washington University Sentence Completion Test. Verbal ability and inductive reasoning were measured using the Education Testing Services Kit of Factor-Referenced Cognitive Tests. Socioeconomic status was also taken into account, although participants were not asked to divulge their education level because for the first two waves many were still high school/young adult age.

Diehl, Chui, Hay and colleagues found significant age related patterns of coping and defense mechanisms. As we age, ego regression tends to decrease while sublimation stays relatively constant and the use of suppression coping mechanisms increases. The defense mechanisms isolation and rationalization slowly and steadily decline with age; displacement, regression, and doubt fall from adolescence to mid-50s when these mechanisms begin to rise again; intellectualization follows the opposite pattern, rising until the mid-50 and then slowly falling again, although less dramatically than the previous three mechanisms.

Interestingly, this study revealed that ego level was the most significant predictor of age related changed in these coping and defense mechanisms. Ego level correlates with intellectualization, and when these rise, doubt and displacement fall. Intellectual abilities didn’t significantly affect changes in coping and defense mechanisms.

There were also differences in men and women use of these mechanisms. Women reported more sublimation, suppression, rationalization, and doubt than men, but less intellectualization. Regardless, both men and women’s coping and defense mechanisms changed similarly over the course of the study.

Coping and defense mechanisms are integral to functioning during stress (so literally anywhere). The changes in these mechanisms don’t seem to follow a set course or become more adaptive as we age, despite what you would think. While some maladaptive mechanisms decrease with age, others increased. By increasing our awareness of which maladaptive mechanisms are prevalent during certain age groups,we can try and increase efficacy of more positive coping and defense mechanisms and make an effort to healthily manage stress.


Themes in exercise adherence vs. dropout

After reading Greg Downey’s The Encultured Brain chapter on neural enculturation in capoeira and Lisa Heywood’s 2011 article advocating a cultural neuropychology of sport, I thought a lot about how these articles applied to physical activity in general. What makes people commit to physical activity? This isn’t a question I’m unfamiliar with. As a chronic yo-yo dieter and infrequent exerciser (who has the time anyway?), this is something I’ve asked myself for years, only to find myself lacking motivation again and again despite the colorful articles found online and in pop-culture magazines promising to give me a new outlook on my physical health and help me form lasting fitness-related habits.

Lisa Pridgeon and Sarah Grogan provide insight into why adherence to an exercise regimen in difficult for some  by exploring themes shared by people (adherers and non-adherers) who, currently or at one point, held gym memberships. Pridgeon was advised in this project  by Grogan, a professor at Staffordshire University’s School of Psychology Sport and Exercise. Grogan’s primary work is in exploring body image.

Pridgeon and Grogan interviewed 14 men and women, asking them to talk openly about their gym/exercise experience. 9 were current gym members, who adhered to a regular exercise routine, while 5 were former members. All were members of a small gym in the UK where membership was composed of 90% males. The participants in the study reflected the gym’s gender proportions. Pridgeon and Grogan then used interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) to identify common themes in gym experience among the participants.

Both participant groups had three themes in common when considering commitment to an exercise regimen, as well as a theme specific to each group. Adherers and non-adherers shared ideas of upward social comparisonculture, and habit. Although these three themes were present in all participants’ ideas about adherence to exercise, their attitudes toward these themes differed between groups. Adherers alone shared a theme of exercise dependency, while non-adherers shared ideas of social support as a motivating factor.

Upward Social Comparisons

We all compare ourselves to the people around us. In a gym setting, this often means interacting with people of a higher fitness level. For people who adhere to a regular exercise routine, this upward social comparison is motivating. For most adherers, the idea that you could progress without these comparisons (the presence of a role model) is ridiculous. Although this was a motivating factor for adherers, there was a negative tone behind some of these stories, namely that having a role model decreased body satisfaction and therefore drove the individual to continue to exercise more.

The story is a little different for non-adherers. Upward social comparison for these people also increases body dissatisfaction, but typically at such a high level that it discourages these individuals from continuing to exercise. Especially in females, this heightened body dissatisfaction is an important factor in why they discontinue exercise routines.


I’m sure we’ve all seen the Planet Fitness commercials that promote their gyms as a “Judgement Free Zone.” This ad campaign is an effort to separate their gyms from “gym culture,” which a lot of people view negatively. Pridgeon and Grogan found that gym culture meant something different to men and women. Men viewed fitness in the gym as competitive. Individuals were always striving to be better or equal to their peers. Success in these endeavors is recognized and praised by their peers, and therefore is very rewarding. Women see gym culture as a support system and value social interaction and acceptance over competition.

What determined adherence or non-adherence when it came to culture was simply whether or not the individual felt the gym’s culture was consistent with their personal identity.  Non-adherers reported feeling like an outsider while adherers viewed the gym culture as re-affirming their personal identity.


Both adherers and non-adherers agreed that forming habits was important to adherence.  Adherers simply removed the decision making process, and were instead prompted to engage in exercise through situational cues. For non-adherers, reestablishing a lost habit was one of the biggest obstacles to rejoining the gym.


This theme was present in the account of adherers only. Addiction and endorphins were credited with adherence. While dependency could be detrimental, the adherers asserted that some level of dependency was necessary to maintain their adherence.

Social support

For non-adherers only, losing or lacking social support was a common reason for gym dropout. These people found that their exercise adherence was better when they planned to go with someone instead of going alone.

Member validation

One member from each group switched roles during this study, and were able to confirm these themes. An adherer stopped exercising after an injury, and found it hard to reestablish his gym habit. Conversely, a non-adherer started to exercise more and confirmed the dependency theme, reporting increased gym attendance increased her body satisfaction and self efficacy.

Understanding reasons behind exercise adherence can be very important when taking into account a lot of long term health problems can be fixed or controlled through regular exercise. This phenomenological approach from Pridgeon and Grogan provides unique insight into this problem.


Inclusion of Developmental Disabilities in Church

I used this article because it showed that current research proves that children with a developmental disability on the autistic spectrum are helped by their participation in church settings.  It proved helpful by showing what benefits religious involvement could help children with autism.


Article: “Inclusion of people with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities in communities of faith by J. Vogel, E. Polloway, and J. Smith, published in 2006 in Mental Retardation

Religious Coping

This article focused on how families dealt with their children having autism in a religious setting.  I used this article to discover how whether or not families found their religion as a positive or negative way of helping them with their autistic children.


Article: “Religious Coping in Families of Children with Autism” by Nalini Tarakeschwar and Kenneth I. Pargament, publiched in 2001 in

Spirituality on the Autistic Spectrum

I used this article mainly because it was written by a person who has autism and is about their experience communing with God.  It provided me with an inside view of what it was like to have autism and experience religion.  The article’s main focus was to make sure it was known that autistic people should be included within the religious community, even though they may commune with God in different ways.


Article: “On Connectedness: Spirituality on the Autistic Spectrum” by Christopher Barber, published in 2011 in Practical Theology

Integrating Faith and Treatment

This article focuses on different treatment options for children with autism, specifically a Christ-centered treatment program.  This article mainly interested me because it looked at an alternate way to help treat autism.


Article: “Integrating Faith and Treatment for Children with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders” by Cara Marker, Magdalena Weeks, and Irene Kraegel, published in 2007 in The Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Volume 26

Church Ministry and the Child with Autism

This article focused on how a family’s faith and religion helped to support them and their autistic children.  I used this article to help me understand the possible benefits that children could have by being involved within their church. This is the article that sparked my idea of a difference in the structural environments of church services.  From my own personal experience, I notice that the autistic child I babysit often deals a little better with an environment that is structured, and I wondered if the same would be applicable to how stressed they would be in different church environments.


Article: “Church Ministry and the Child with Autism” by Joyce Emmons Nuner and Tamara Stringer Love, published in 2013 in Family and Community Ministries, Volume 26

Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Image of God

This article specifically focused on how those who have been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum interact with God and view the image of God.  I mainly used this article to help me understand how a child with autism might have a relationship with God, despite having obvious social impairments.


Article: “Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Image of God as a Core Aspect of Religiousness” by Hanneke Schaap-Jonker, Bram Sizoo, Jannine can Schothorst-van Roekel, and Jozef Corveleyn, published in 2013 in The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion

Autism From a Religious Perspective

This study looked at three families immigrant South Asian Muslim families with children that had been diagnosed as on the Autism Spectrum.  I mainly utilized their usage of participant observation and how the researcher immersed themselves within the cultures of the families in order to fully understand what their life was like.


Article: “Autism From a Religious Persepctive: A Study of Parental Beliefs in South Asian Muslim Immigrant Families” by Brinda Jegatheesan, Peggy J. Miller, and Susan A. Fowler, published in 2010 by the Hammil Institute on Disabilities