The University of Sussex

Cognitive neutralising strategies, coping and psychological health

Graham C.L. Davey, Angus S. McDonald, Claire E. Ferguson, Anne-Marie O'Neill, Janet Shepherd, Dawn Band

Six studies are described which investigate the kinds of strategies that individuals use to devalue the threatening meaning of a stressor (cognitive neutralising strategies). These studies identified seven factorially independent constructs corresponding to downward comparison, positive reappraisal, cognitive disengagement, optimism, faith in social support, denial and life perspective. All of these constructs except denial were significantly correlated with measures of psychological health and inversely correlated with a variety of measures of psychopathology. The use of cognitive neutralising strategies was highly correlated with the use of problem-focused coping strategies regardless of stressor type, but associated with the use of avoidance coping and emotion-focused coping only in the case of certain stressor types. A prospective study discovered that the use of cognitive neutralising strategies was not simply an inverse function of existing psychopathology, but predicted future psychological health even when existing levels of psychological health were partialled out. Finally, rehearsing cognitive neutralising statements was found to have an ameliorative effect on initial reactions to a stressor. The role of cognitive neutralising strategies in the coping process and some possible mechanisms mediating the effect of cognitive neutralising strategies on psychological health are discussed and evaluated.

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