Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Keith B. Burt

Second Advisor

Lawrence G. Shelton


The present study was motivated by a need to employ multilevel studies to better understand why the experience of stressful life events is predictive of increased rates of psychopathology. Specifically, this study aimed to test the moderating role of coping on associations between stress reactivity (autonomic arousal) and broad-spectrum internalizing and externalizing problems in a normative sample. Participants were 140 adolescents and emerging adults (ages 14-30 years; 60% female) who completed questionnaires on coping, stressful life events, personality, and behavioral/emotional problems. Skin conductance and heart rate data were also measured while participants completed two laboratory stress tasks: a public speaking task and a task involving serial subtraction. Path analytic results suggested negative main effects for primary and secondary control coping, and positive main effects for disengagement coping, on internalizing and externalizing problems. Evidence was also found for interactive effects of skin conductance reactivity to the public speaking task and secondary control coping on externalizing problems for adolescents only, such that there was a negative association between SCL reactivity and externalizing problems for individuals reporting low use of secondary control coping, but SCL reactivity and externalizing problems were unrelated for individuals reporting high use of secondary control coping. Associations were also found between personality variables and both coping and internalizing and externalizing problems, but not with autonomic arousal. Although a priori hypotheses regarding interaction effects were mainly unsupported, results from the present study suggest that future research examining the interplay among stress reactivity, coping, and personality will be important in furthering our understanding of the development of psychopathology and helping to tailor effective efforts at prevention and intervention.



Number of Pages

80 p.

Included in

Psychology Commons