2012. Vol.3, No.9, 713-721
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 713
Appraisals, Coping and Affective and Behavioral Reactions to
Academic Stressors
Hasida Ben-Zur, Moshe Zeidner
University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Received June 3rd, 2012; revised July 5th, 2012; accepted August 3rd, 2012
This study, based on the cognitive model of stress (Lazarus, 1999), examined 294 Jewish and 234 Arab
students’ stress appraisals, coping strategies, and emotional and behavioral reactions to academic stressors.
Perceived stress was positively related to emotion/support and avoidance coping, which, in turn, were re-
lated to high negative affect and risk taking. The findings suggest interventions among students to aid
them to successfully adapt to academic stress.
Keywords: Academic Stressor; Coping; Negative Affect; Risk Taking; Jewish/Arab Cultural Groups
This study is theoretically grounded in the cognitive model
of stress (Lazarus, 1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) and sets
out to assess key facets of the stress and coping process in the
academic context. The major aim of the study is to assess stress
appraisals, coping strategies, and emotional and behavioral
outcomes (i.e., negative affect and risk-taking, respectively) in
response to a salient academic stressor. Additionally, we aimed
to compare Jewish and Arab students on stress and coping fac-
Academic Stress
Academic stress refers to those environmental demands and
challenges in an academic setting (e.g., meeting deadlines for
assignments, exams, social relations, etc.) that tax, challenge, or
exceed a students’ coping resources, and represent a “call for
action”. The degree of stress experienced by a student in an
academic situation may depend on a wide array of factors, in-
cluding the objective properties of the academic environment
(academic standards of excellence, course difficulty, etc.), the
individual’s perception of the academic environment (perceived
competitiveness, perceived social support, etc.), perceived cop-
ing resources (cognitive, social, emotional, physical, spiritual),
available arsenal of coping strategies for transacting with envi-
ronmental stressors, and the specific cultural lens through
which the environmental demands are experienced.
Evaluative stress is a major component of academic stress
and a ubiquitous source of stress for students across the globe
(Zeidner, 1998). College students are required to adjust to a
variety of challenging situational demands, including the uni-
que demands of the academic curriculum and instructional sys-
tem, to assimilate vast amounts of academic material under
stringent time constraints, and cope with the demands and pre-
ssures of coursework assignments and final exam period. In
addition, students need to make necessary adjustment to their
social milieu and learn to conform to the campus subculture and
social network. Furthermore, most students, in their late teens
to mid twenties, face the psychological developmental stage
challenges and life tasks characteristic of late adolescence and
the transition into young adulthood, and are also exposed to
many normative lire events. Work, social relations, familial re-
sponsibilities, hobbies, professional interests, and cultural back-
grounds often place constraint on students’ degree of freedom,
draining student time resources, and plunging students into
within-role conflicts (e.g., academic vs work or social demands)
which many may find difficult to resolve. The need to negotiate
a multitude of environmental demands may severely tax and
exceed the coping capacities of many, often leading to in-
creased feelings of frustration and anxiety, problems of adjust-
ment and to depressed student performance (Zeidner & Schwar-
zer, 1996).
Stress and Coping: The Transactional Perspective
Psychological stress is frequently described as the “Black
Plague” of the modern era, taxing the resources of individuals
and threatening individuals’ well-being and societal health.
From a transactional perspective (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984),
stress is conceptualized as a dynamic process or “transaction”
between the individual and various facets of the environment
that are perceived to tax, threaten, or to exceed a person’s re-
sources and coping capabilities and endangering the person’s
sense of well-being (Lazarus, 1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
Thus, in order to understand a stressful experience one must
consider both the subjective milieu (appraisals, values, commit-
ments, beliefs, cognitions) and objective environments (e.g.,
familial, learning, occupational, community) impinging on the
person, along with stable individual differences or background
factors that influence perceptions of both the nature and strength
of environmental stressors.
The cognitive, transactional model emphasizes the crucial
role of situations, but generally views them as informational
inputs whose behavioral impact depends on how they are pro-
cessed by the person. Accordingly, the judgment that a particu-
lar person-environment relationship is stressful depends largely
on cognitive appraisals—the individual’s evaluation of the per-
sonal significance of ongoing events and his or her capacity to
react to them. For example, a person who perceives an aca-
demic situation as personally threatening or harmful to her
well-being will experience an increase in stress-related emo-
tions, irrespective of the presence of real or objective threat.
According to a transactional perspective, coping involves a
person’s efforts—cognitive and behavioral—to manage (i.e.,
reduce, minimize, master, tolerate) both the external and inter-
nal demands of a person-environment transaction that is ap-
praised as stressful (Lazarus, 1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
Although a wide array of taxonomies of coping strategies are
currently available, the literature has converged on the follow-
ing three categories: a) Problem-focused coping, designed to
manage or solve the problem by removing or circumventing the
stressor (e.g., carefully planning for a major presentation before
one’s seminar class); b) Emotion-focused coping, designed to
regulate, reduce, channel, or eliminate the aversive emotions
associated with the stressful encounter (e.g., seeking emotional
support from friends, denying the importance of the event); and
c) Avoidance-focused coping, referring to strategies designed to
circumvent or avoid the stressful situation, either via use of
person-oriented strategies (e.g., distracting oneself by socializ-
ing with others) or task-oriented strategies (e.g., taking a holi-
day, as avoidant strategy).
Overall, adaptive coping with stress should lead to positive
outcomes, such as heightened satisfaction, fewer psychosomatic
symptoms, and decreased anxiety. In contradistinction, the
stress process, if not adaptively handled, may contribute to a
wide range of physical and mental disorders, including: anxiety,
depression, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory ailments,
infectious disease, and cancer (e.g., Penley, Tomaka, & Wiebe,
2002; Zeidner, 1998).
A number of past studies have investigated the processes in-
volved in coping with a specific stressor, namely, examination
stress (e.g., Carver et al., 1989; Folkman & Lazarus, 1985;
Zeidner, 1995). For example, Zeidner (1995) showed that situ-
ational emotion-focused coping was related positively to state
anxiety whereas problem-focused coping predicted midterm ex-
amination grades. Another study by Struthers, Perry and Menec
(2000) showed that problem-focused and emotion-focused
coping styles were positively related to perceived stress associ-
ated with introductory psychology course, and problem-focused
coping mediated its effects on college students’ motivation
which was positively related to academic grades, and similarly,
in a recent study (Saklofske, Austin, Mastoras, Beaton, & Os-
borne, 2012) task-oriented coping was related positively to
students’ grades.
The present study focused on a variety of academic stressors,
with the aim of assessing the ways Jewish and Arab students
perceived and coped with these stressors and the adaptive value
of coping strategies in terms of emotional and behavioral out-
Cultural Group Differences in Stress, Coping, and
Adaptive O ut c o mes
Israel is a pluralistic society, comprised of myriad ethnic,
cultural, and religious subgroups. At present, close to 80% of
its population is of Jewish extraction and the remainder of the
population is comprised of a wide array of religious, cultural,
and ethnic groups (Muslims, Druze, Christians, etc.). Arabs are
a minority group in Israel, comprising slightly over 20% of the
total population and numbering close to 1,600,000 million peo-
ple (CBS Press Release, 2011). As reported by Habib (2008),
over 80% of Arab Israelis are of Muslim denomination, with
the remainder of Christian (about 10%) and Druze (about 8%)
The co-existence of two culturally distinct populations—Arabs
and Jews—in Israel provides an invaluable opportunity for the
investigation of cultural influences on the stress and coping
In contrast to the modern individualistic values endorsed by
the majority of Israeli Jews, traditional collectivistic values and
norms are commonly held to be part and parcel of the overall
collective societal experience of Israeli Arabs (Dwairy, 2006).
Israelis have adopted behavioral norms which characterize a
Western society and tend to focus on self-fulfillment to pro-
mote their individual goals (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier,
2002). In contrast, Arabs in Israel are a relatively collectivist-
communal, homogeneous cultural group, characterized by col-
lectivistic tendencies (maintaining group membership, harmo-
nious relations with others, etc.), and more authoritarian par-
enting (Dwairy, 2004).The bulk of the research on cultural
group effects in Israel has been based on the individualism-
collectivism paradigm (Gelhaar et al., 2007). Overall, this re-
search suggests that Israelis are closer to the individualistic pole,
whereas Arabs are closer to the collectivistic pole.
Arabs in Israel are in a disadvantaged position when it comes
to education, employment, social welfare, and health care
(Kamm, 2003). Furthermore, Arabs and Jews attend parallel
school systems with different curricula, languages of study,
school hours, and quality of education. Inequality in govern-
ment allocations for infrastructure and improvement (Khamaisi,
2011) has led to widespread underdevelopment and insufficient
support for the Arab educational system, which, in turn, has
contributed to lower levels of educational achievement and
professional training. As a whole, Arab children perform below
Jewish children in school, with higher dropout rates by age 17,
lower success rates on matriculation tests, and lower mean col-
lege entrance exam scores (Habib, 2008; Kamm, 2003; Zeidner,
1987). Indeed, Arab youth and adults report higher rates of
psychological stress (depression, sleep problems) and greater
difficulties in coping with problems of daily life compared to
their Jewish counterparts (Habib, 2008).
Relatively few studies have compared Arab and Jewish stu-
dents in their coping with more mundane or routine stressors. A
study by Zeidner (1992) found that first year Arab students
reported significantly higher levels of overall academic stress
relative to their Jewish counterparts, with cultural background
accounting for about 16% of the total stress score variance.
However, academic stress was not explored in relation to cop-
ing strategies or adaptive outcomes.
The Present Study
Following the cognitive model of stress and coping (Lazarus,
1999), the main aim of the study is to assess the interrelation-
ships between stress appraisals, coping strategies, and their
emotional and behavioral outcomes. The hypotheses were: a)
Appraisals of stress with respect to an academic stressor would
be inversely related to problem-focused coping and positively
related to less adaptive coping strategies (emotion-focused,
avoidance); b) Stress appraisals and less adaptive coping stra-
tegies would be positively related to less adaptive outcomes,
that is, negative affect and risk taking behavior.
Negative affect has been extensively studied in relation to
coping with stressful encounters (e.g., Ben-Zur & Debi, 2005;
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Ben-Zur, Yagil, & Oz, 2005; Gaudreau, Blondin, & Lapierre,
2002; Lowe, Norman, & Bennett, 2000; Ntoumanis & Biddle,
1998). Risk taking behavior has also been studied as an out-
come of traumatic encounters and as a correlate of PTSD (see
review by Ben-Zur & Zeidner, 2009). The present study as-
sessed negative affect and risk taking as a possible outcome of
encountering and coping with academic stress.
A secondary aim of the study is to assess the extent to which
cultural group membership (i.e., Arabs vs Jews) affects stress
appraisals, coping strategies, and adaptive outcomes. Different
facets of the academic environment may be differentially per-
ceived, interpreted, and responded to as a function of socio-
cultural group membership. Furthermore, Arab students are
members of a disadvantaged cultural minority group in Israeli
society, with lower average socioeconomic background and
national dissatisfaction. The third hypothesis was: c) Com-
pared with Jewish students, Arab students would show in-
creased stress appraisals, less adaptive coping strategies, and
less adaptive outcomes when retrospectively considering a
common source of routine stress, i.e., academic stressors.
Participants and Procedure
294 Jewish and 234 Arab students enrolled at a large re-
search university in Northern Israel participated in this study.
The student body at this university is comprised of 80% Jewish
and 20% Arab students; this university caters to the majority of
Arab university students in Israel. Respondents were about
evenly divided by gender (53% females), with a mean age of
25.84 (SD = 4.47, range 19 - 40). The majority of the student
participants were Israeli born (90%), undergraduates, (78%),
and single (65%). Overall, students evaluated their economic
status as slightly below average (1 = very good; 5 = very bad;
M = 2.67; SD = .98).
Table 1 presents demographic characteristics, separately for
Arab and Jewish student groups. As shown in Table 1, Arab
participants were younger, on average, than their Jewish coun-
terparts. This presumably stems from the fact that the vast ma-
jority of Arab students (Moslem and Christians) can enroll at
the university at a younger age than Jewish students, as they are
not required to enlist in the Israeli army for compulsory military
service. Also, based on parental education and self-appraised
economic status, Arab participants were reported to be of lower
socio-economic status than Jewish students.
The assessment packets were distributed to students, on the
basis of convenience. The respondents were informed that the
measures included items related to individual differences in
attitudes, feelings, and cognitions, and were assured that their
responses would be coded anonymously. The research was
approved by the institution’s human subject committee.
Following is a description of the measures employed in this
study, in the order of their presentation to participants.
1) Academic stressors. Based on items adapted from Zeid-
ner’s (1992) Student Stress Inventory, participants were asked
to select the most salient source of academic stress experienced
during the past academic year, from a list of 16 potentially
stressful academic events. These stressors assessed several dis-
tinct categories of academic stress, including: coursework (e.g.,
Table 1.
Means, SDs and frequency distributions of demographics, by cultural
Arab Jewish
M SD M SD t-test
Age 23.834.23 27.44 3.98 10.06**
Father education
school years 11.314.21 13.52 3.50 6.50**
Economic status
assessed 2.54 .97 2.76 .99 2.57*
Health status
assessed 1.51 .69 1.63 .74 1.91
Gender men 106 45.3% 145 49.3% <1
Family status single175 74.8% 167 57.0% 18.07**
Student study level
undergraduates 199 85.0% 207 71.6% 13.40**
Note: *p < .01;** p < .0001; economic and health status scale: 1 = very good; 5 =
not good at all.
“unreasonable course requirements”), evaluations and academic
performance (e.g., “giving an oral presentation before the
class”), academic environment (e.g., “difficulty in finding aca-
demic materials for course”), overload and time pressures (“not
meeting deadlines for paper submission”), and social/inter-
personal concerns (e.g., “interpersonal tensions with other stu-
dents”). Students marked the most significant stressor recently
experienced, and were asked to relate to the particular stressor
they identified when responding to the remaining measures.
2) Stress Appraisal. Following Ben-Zur et al. (2005), stu-
dents were asked to appraise the stressful academic events they
chose with respect to perceived: threat, loss, negativity, chal-
lenge, and control (1 = not at all; 5 = to a great extent). Based
on exploratory factor analysis, a stress appraisal subscale was
formed; each of the first three scale items loaded at least .70 on
the stress target factor, which accounted for 38% of the com-
mon scale variance. The challenge factor was not used due to
poor psychometric attributes1.
3) Coping strategies were assessed via a brief 18-item scale,
based on the Hebrew version (Zeidner & Ben-Zur, 1994) of
Carver et al.’s COPE Scale (Carver et al., 1989). The original
COPE consists of 60 items designed to assess 15 coping sub-
scales, with four items per subscale. The present study assessed
only 9 of these coping strategies, with two items assessing each
strategy. Participants were asked to rate the extent (0 = not at
all; 3 = a great deal) to which they used each of the strategies
(e.g., “I make a plan of action”, “I let my feelings out”, “I pre-
tend that it has not happened”) in coping with the academic
stressor they chose. The following three coping scales were
constructed based on a second order factor analysis, applied to
subscale sums (Carver et al., 1989). a) Problem-focused cop-
ing (active coping, planning, suppression of competing active-
ties), accounting for 24% of the common factor variance; b)
Emotion/support coping (instrumental support, emotional sup-
port, ventilation), accounting for 22% of the common factor
variance; and c) Avoidance coping (mental disengagement,
behavioral disengagement, denial), accounting for 24.12% of
1It should be noted that Arab and Jewish students did not differ on the chal-
lenge score (t < 1).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 715
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ture and response distribution {Cramer’s V = .31, p < .001}. the common factor variance.
4) Negative affect. The 20-item Hebrew version (Ben-Zur,
2002) of Watson, Clark, and Tellegen’s (1988) Positive and
Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) was employed to assess
affective reactions. Respondents were asked to use each of the
affective adjectives (e.g., “enthusiastic”, “hostile”), on the scale
to describe how they felt with respect to the academic stressor
they selected, along a five-point scale (1 = not at all, 5 = to a
great extent). The scale is comprised of two 10-item factorially-
derived subscales, i.e., positive affect and negative affect.
These two subscales showed high internal reliabilities (.84 - .90)
and high concurrent validity (Watson et al., 1988). Factor anal-
ysis applied to the 20 items in the present study also corrobo-
rated the two-factor structure, i.e., negative and positive affect,
accounting for about 20% of the variance. Given our focus on
stress-related emotions, only the negative affect scale was in-
cluded in the present study.
Although there were significant differences in response dis-
tributions by culture, a common set of salient stressors was
identified by both Jewish and Arab students. Thus, at least 5%
of both Arab and Jewish students chose the following academic
stimuli as being particularly stressful: a) conflict between work
and study demands (Jewish = 25%; Arab = 11%)); b) overload
in course assignments (Jewish = 9%, Arab = 9%); c) receiving
a lower grade than expected on an important exam (Jewish =
15%; Arab = 19%); d) taking a required course that was bor-
ing/frustrating (Jewish = 7%; Arab = 9%); e) difficulty in
meeting deadlines for submission of course papers (Jewish =
8%; Arab = 11%); and f) need to take a make-up exam due to
failing grade (Jewish = 5%; Arab = 12%).
Test for Culture X Gender Effects
As shown in Table 2, Arab students were significantly high-
er than their Jewish counterparts in perceived stress, the use of
all three coping strategies (i.e., problem-focused, emotion/
support, avoidance), negative affect, risk taking, and social
desirability. The following analyses were conducted to assess
these differences while controlling for demographic variables
and social desirability.
5) Risk-taking behaviors. Based on risk items used by Hir-
schberger et al. (2000) participants were asked to rate (0 = not
at all; 4 = a lot) the extent of occurrence of each of six risky
behaviors during the period in which the stressful event oc-
curred (e.g., “driving faster than usual”). The reliability of this
6-item scale in the present study was .83 for the Arab students
and .68 for their Jewish counterparts. The items’ ratings were
summed up to create a general risk taking scores. A 2 (Culture: Arabs vs Jews) × 2 (Gender: Men vs Women)
Multivariate Analysis of Covariance (MANOVA) was con-
ducted on stress appraisals, three coping scales, negative affect
and risky behavior, controlling for background variables (age,
father education, economic status, family status, academic sta-
tus and social desirability). This analysis showed significant
effects for culture [ = .92, F(6, 486) = 6.96, p < .001] and
gender [ = .93, F(6, 486) = 6.34, p < .001], but no significant
Culture by Gender interaction (F < 1). Significant culture ef-
fects were found for most of the research variables: perceived
stress [F(1, 491) = 4.40, p < .05, 2
=.01], problem-focused
coping [F(1, 491) = 5.71, p = .01, 2
=.01], avoidance [F
(1,491) = 28.40, p < .001, 2
=.06], negative affect [F(1, 491)
= 11.87, p < .001, 2
=.02], and risk taking [F(1, 491) = 4.88,
p < .05, 2
=.01]. Gender effects were observed for problem-
focused coping [F(1, 491) = 4.87, p < .05, 2
=.01], emo-
tion/support coping [F(1, 491) = 24.54, p < .001, 2
negative affect [F(1, 491) = 7.08, p < .01, 2
=.01], and risky
behavior [F(1, 491) = 5.06, p < .05, 2
=.01]. Women were
higher than men on problem-focused and emotion/support cop-
ing and negative affect but lower than men on risky behavior.
6) Social desirability. The Hebrew adaptation (Ben-Zur,
2002) of the 8-item Social Desirability Questionnaire (Crowne
& Marlowe, 1964) was employed to control for potential social
desirability in responding to the self-report personal measures.
The scale showed satisfactory reliability values among Israelis
(alpha = .71, Ben-Zur, 2012). A high score reflects higher le-
vels of social desirability.
Preliminary Analysis
As may be recalled, students were asked to select the most
salient source of academic stress experienced during the ongo-
ing academic year from among 16 available options (or add a
stressor of their own in the event that none of the available
options were relevant). Whereas no significant gender group
response distributions were observed, response distributions of
the academic stressors varied by cultural group, 2 (16) = 51.17,
p < .001, with a moderate relationship observed between cul-
Table 2.
Descriptive statistics for Arab and Jewish students on key measures: means, SDs and alpha coefficients.
Arab (n = 234) Jewish (n = 294)
Variables M SD α M SD α D scores
Stress appraisal 2.86 1.00 .73 2.62 .92 .65 .25*
Problem-focused coping 2.11 .59 .78 1.98 .70 .80 .20*
Emotion/support coping 1.72 .65 .72 1.60 .74 .69 .17*
Avoidance coping 1.16 .67 .79 .78 .58 .68 .61*
Negative affect 2.86 .81 .87 2.57 .81 .87 .39*
Risk taking behavior .39 .57 .83 .28 .42 .68 .21*
Social desirability 1.58 .23 .51 1.50 .25 .60 .33*
Note: D represents Hedges’ unbiased estimators of effect size; *mean differences are statistically reliable at p < .05 and beyond.
Nexus of Relationship s: Stress, Co p i n g, a nd
Highly similar patterns of relationships among perceived
stress, coping, and adaptive outcomes were found for Jewish
and Arab students (see Table 3). Thus, in both cultural groups,
perceived stress evoked by a meaningful academic stressor was
also significantly and moderately related to negative affect, but
less so to risky behavior. Furthermore, in both cultural groups,
students who perceived the academic stressor as more stressful
also used more emotion/support coping and avoidance coping.
In addition emotion/support and avoidance coping with an aca-
demic stressor was significantly related to negative outcomes in
both cultural groups. Overall, the criterion variables represent-
ing negative outcomes were predicted by a similar set of pre-
dictors in Jewish and Arab groups.
Hypotheses Testing
To test the research hypotheses, several multiple regressions
were conducted. The first hypothesis was tested by hierarchical
regressions in which problem-focused, emotion/support and
avoidance coping were regressed, in turn, on background and
then appraisals variable. The second hypothesis was tested by
hierarchical regressions in which negative affect and risky be-
haviors were regressed, in three steps, on background and then
appraisal and then coping variables. The first step included
culture (0 = Jewish; 1 = Arab), and controlled for age, father
education, economic status, family status (1 = single; 2 = mar-
ried), academic status (1 = undergraduate; 2 = graduate), gender
(1 = male; 2 = female), and social desirability.
Coping strategies. Table 4 presents three multiple regres-
sions aimed at testing appraisals and coping associations, using
the first step to assess demographic and background variables.
As can be seen in the table, on Step 2, after controlling for de-
mographic and background variables, perceived stress pre-
dicted high levels of both emotion/support coping, together
with gender, and also predicted avoidance coping, together with
culture. We also hypothesized that stress appraisals would be
negatively related to problem-focused coping but no association
was found between appraisals and problem-focused coping,
which was predicted by culture and gender. Thus, hypothesis a)
was confirmed in part, suggesting that students who felt highly
stressed coped with less adaptive coping strategies.
Negative affect. Table 5 shows on the second step that nega
Table 3.
Pearson correlations of appraisals, coping, and adaptive outcomes among Arab and Jewish students.
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1. Stress appraisals –.08 .20* .22* .45* .13 –.04
2. Problem-focused coping –.06 .36* –.00 .09 .04 .09
3. Emotion/support coping .28* .31* .39* .39* .28* .07
4. Avoidance coping .33* –.17* .30* .28* .43* .02
5. Negative affect .47* .12 .54* .33* .22* –.14
6. Risk taking .21* –.09 –.03 .25* .22* –.10
7. Social desirability –.02 .06 .00 .01 –.16* –.11
Note: Arab students’ data (n = 234) are given above the diagonal, and Jewish students’ data (n = 294) are given below the diagonal; *p < .01.
Table 4.
Hierarchical regressions of coping strategies on culture, demographics and stress appraisals.
Problem-focused Emotion/support Avoidance
Variable Step 1 Step 2 Step 1 Step 2 Step 1 Step 2
Culture .12* .13* .10 .07 .27*** .24***
Age .11 .11 .04 .06 –.00 .01
Father education –.02 –.02 .00 –.02 –.01 –.02
Economic status –.01 –.01 .03 .04 .05 .06
Family status .05 .05 –.02 –.02 –.02 –.01
Academic status –.04 –.04 .08 .08 –.08 –.08
Gender .10* .10* .22*** .23*** .02 .02
Social desirability .07 .07 .02 .02 –.01 –.00
Multiple R2 .04 .07 .09
F(8, 492) 2.48** 4.39*** 6.14***
Stress appraisals –.05 .26*** .27***
Multiple R2 .04 .13 .16
F(9, 491) 2.37** 8.28*** 10.58***
Note: *p .05. **p .01. ***p < .001. Gender, men = 1; women = 2; family dummy 1: single = 0; married and divorced/widowed = 1; dummy 2: married = 0; single and
divorced/widowed = 1.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 717
Table 5.
Hierarchical regressions of negative affect and risk taking on culture, demographics, stress appraisals and coping measures.
Variable Negative affect Risk taking
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Culture .18*** .12** .07 .12* .10* .01
Age –.03 –.01 –.03 .00 .01 .00
Father education –.04 –.06 –.06 –.02 –.02 –.02
Economic status .00 .01 –.01 .00 .01 –.01
Family status –.07 –.06 –.05 –.07 –.07 –.06
Academic status .08 .08 .06 –.03 –.03 –.01
Gender .12** .13** .04 –.11* –.11* –.12**
Social desirability –.16*** –.15*** –.16*** –.09* –.09* –.09*
Multiple R2 .08 .04
F(8, 492) 5.15*** 2.82**
Stress appraisals .45*** .34*** .15*** .05
Multiple R2 .28 .07
F(9, 491) 20.80*** 3.78***
Problem-focused Coping .03 .03
Emotion/support Coping .34*** .02
Avoidance coping .11** .35***
Multiple R2 .41 .17
F(12, 488) 28.61*** 8.45***
Note: *p <= .05. **p <= .01. ***p < .001; ethnicity, Jews = 0; Arabs = 1; family status, single = 1; married = 2; academic status, undergraduates = 1, graduates = 2;
Gender, men = 1; women = 2.
tive affect was positively related to perceived stress, together
with cultural group, gender and social desirability. On the third
step perceived stress, emotion-focused coping and avoidance
contributed significantly to this outcome together with social
desirability, but problem-focused coping did not contribute to
negative affect. Thus, hypothesis b) was confirmed: Students
who felt more stressed and used less adaptive coping strategies
also reported higher levels of negative emotional states.
Risk taking. As can be seen in Table 5, on the second step,
perceived stress together with cultural group, gender, and social
desirability predicted risk taking. On the third step, only three
predictors in the predictor stock were significant, i.e., gender,
social desirability, and avoidant coping. Thus, hypothesis b)
was confirmed in part: students who used greater avoidant cop-
ing also engaged in greater risk taking behavior.
As for hypothesis c), the data reported above show that Arab
students, compared with Jewish students, felt more stressed,
used more coping strategies of all types and reported more neg-
ative affect and risk taking, thus confirming the hypothesis.
This study examined students’ perceptions, coping strategies,
and emotional and behavioral reactions with respect to a per-
sonally meaningful academic stressor. In line with our hy-
potheses, based on the cognitive model of stress (Lazarus,
1999), students who reported more perceived stress, also used
less adaptive coping strategies and reported higher levels of
negative emotional states and higher levels of risk taking be-
haviors. Additionally, when compared to Jewish students, Arab
students reported higher levels of perceived stress, as well as
more intensive use of problem-focused, emotion-focused, and
avoidance coping strategies, higher levels of negative affect,
and a tendency towards greater risk taking behaviors.
Appraisals, Copin g and Outcomes
The positive associations between perceived stress, emotion/
support and avoidance coping, and negative affect are in line
with the transactional model of stress and coping (e.g., Lazarus
& Folkman, 1984), which suggests that primary appraisal of
threat is a key factor in determining the cascade of emotional
and behavioral outcomes following a stressful encounter (e.g.,
Ben-Zur et al., 2005; Major et al., 1998). In addition, the data
regarding emotion/support and avoidance coping, and their
associations with negative affect are in line with past research
on coping in specific contexts: emotion-focused coping is found
to be highly correlated with psychological distress among can-
cer patients (e.g., Ben-Zur, Gilbar, & Lev, 2001; Carver &
Scheier, 1993), university students (e.g., Zeidner, 1995), and
community residents during traumatic national events (e.g.,
Zeidner, 2007; Zeidner & Ben-Zur, 1993). In contrast, problem-
focused coping is not related to distress as measured by state-
anxiety (e.g., Zeidner & Ben-Zur, 1993). Thus, students who
appraise an academic stressor as highly threatening also cope
with maladaptive coping strategies with resulting detrimental
Unlike past research, the present study also used risk taking
as an outcome of the stress process, and found that following an
academic stressor, students who reported more perceived stress
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
and the use of avoidance coping reported a higher frequency of
risky behaviors, which were correlated with negative mood.
These data are congenial with studies in the literature suggest-
ing that risky behaviors tend to be elevated following exposure
to traumatic events (Ben-Zur & Zeidner, 2009; Pat-Horenczyk
et al., 2007; Schiff, 2006). Thus, the present study lends evi-
dence for the effects of elevated threat on risk taking within
everyday stressful events such as the case of students’ academic
stressful encounters. Furthermore, these findings are in line
with the notion that traumatic and stressful events may streng-
then the tendency toward risk taking through the use of avoi-
dance coping (e.g., Ben-Zur & Zeidner, 2009).
Cultural Differences in Stress Appraisals, Coping and
Adaptive O ut c o mes
As noted, Arab students were more threatened from exposure
to an academic stressor than their Jewish counterparts and also
experienced greater stress reactions, on average, such as nega-
tive affect, and more maladaptive behaviors, such as risk taking.
The psychological literature shows national differences in the
perception of various stressors (Spector et al., 2002, 2004), the
stress consequences (Glazer & Beehr, 2005), and the strength
of the relationship between the reported stressors and their out-
comes (Schaufeli & Janczur, 1994).
Arab students scored higher on all three categories of coping,
problem-focused, emotion-focused, and avoidance, than their
Jewish counterparts. These data are consistent with data pro-
vided by Somer et al. (2009) showing that Israeli Arabs report
using a wider array of coping strategies (e.g., acceptance,
avoidance, collaborative coping) in managing stress. This might
arise out of greater demands, in that academic stress is assessed
as being more stressful, as well as greater overall adversity.
With respect to the latter, Israeli Arabs may need to call upon a
wider range of coping strategies, including collectivist-coll-
aborative strategies, because they may not have the same access
to the overarching sources of social and cultural support that are
readily available to their Jewish compatriots. Furthermore, our
data indicating that Arab and Jewish students employ similar
strategies in coping with an academic stressor are congenial
with prior studies showing similar uses of coping strategies
among different cultural groups (Braun-Lewnshon et al., 2011).
In sum, our data are also consistent with a number of studies
showing less favorable emotional and coping reactions of Arabs
during periods of conflict (Johnson et al., 2009; Schiff et al.,
2010; Somer et al., 2009).
Gender Differences
Consistent gender group differences were observed for both
Jewish and Arab subgroups. These data showing higher mean
levels of stress and negative emotions in woman compared to
men are consistent with some prior research and various lines
of evidence (Ben-Zur & Zeidner, 2012; Zeidner, 1992) sug-
gesting that women students will show higher mean levels of
stress than men during college. Cross-cultural studies of eva-
luative anxiety have reported significantly higher levels of an-
xiety among females relative to males, both in Israel and abroad
(see Zeidner, 1998, for a review).
Advantages and Disadvantage s of t he Study
The reader should keep a number of constraints in mind
when considering the findings. First, both the design and the
data were basically correlational. Thus, we assumed that per-
ceived stress and coping were antecedents of negative affect,
and risk taking. However, the reverse causal relation may be
true, with maladaptive outcomes recursively impacting on cop-
ing strategies. Furthermore, this study used paper and pencil
inventories, which may be biased by response sets and suffer
from the perennial problem of common methods variance. The
advantages of the present study are twofold: First, the analyses
were based on a relatively sizable sample of Jewish and Arab
students. Second, a social desirability measure, found to be
higher on average among Arabs than among Jews, was used as
a control variable in the analyses. Thus, the findings regarding
cultural differences were observed even when social desirabi-
lity was controlled.
Conclusion and Applications
The present study assessed appraisals and reactions to aca-
demic stressors by students from two cultural sectors: Jewish
and Arab. The pattern of relationships between stress appraisals,
coping and outcomes was similar for Jewish and Arab students,
and in accord with the cognitive model of stress (Lazarus,
1999). The levels of stress, coping and outcomes differ between
the two groups, showing that Arab students were more threat-
ened by academic stressors, coped with a variety of coping
modes, including higher levels of avoidance coping, and re-
acted with higher levels of negative affect and more risk taking.
This study compared only two cultural groups, Arabs and
Jewish students, and it should be run on other cultural groups
that present minorities in Western countries to assess the gener-
alizability of the findings in other cultures. Specifically, the
findings suggest, first, that Arab students (and maybe minority
students elsewhere) may need more consultation and guidance
upon entering the university. They may profit from workshops
that explain the nature of higher education studies, the demands,
stressors, and conflicts that can occur between students, and
between students and their instructors and mentors as well as
other staff members, and the type of strategies that can be used
in order to cope effectively with these stressors. Furthermore,
the study findings showed that in general stressful events, apart
from leading to negative mood, may lead students to expose
themselves to danger through substance abuse, speedy driving,
etc. These data also call for consultation for all students, the
aim of which is to make them aware and beware of the possible
detrimental results of stressful events.
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