2011. Vol.2, No.6, 598-604
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.26092
Dispositional Self-Control Capacity and Trait Anxiety as Relates
to Coping Styles
Chris Englert, Alex Bertrams, Oliver Dickhäuser
University of Mannheim, School of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
Received April 5th, 2011; revised June 17, 2011; accepted August 14th, 2011.
In the present article, we analyzed the relationship between dispositional self-control capacity, trait anxiety, and
coping styles. Since self-control is often crucial for adapting one’s behavior to be positive, we predicted that
dispositional differences in the capacity to exert self-control play a role in determining individuals coping styles.
To test this assumption, we assessed participants’ (N = 163) dispositional self-control capacity using the
Self-Control Scale, and their dispositional coping styles by using the short version of the German Coping Ques-
tionnaire SVF78 (German: Stressverarbeitungsfragebogen). A path analysis supported our hypothesis; higher
levels of dispositional self-control capacity were positively associated with positive coping style and negatively
associated with negative coping style. Basing on attentional control theory, we further assumed that this rela-
tionship was mediated by trait anxiety. In a second study based on a sample of N = 98 participants, we addition-
ally applied the trait version of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The results of a path analysis revealed that
trait anxiety mediated the relationship between dispositional self-control capacity and coping styles. The results
suggest that it may be useful to take a closer look at the role of self-control in the anxiety-coping relationship.
Keywords: Anxiety, Coping, Emotion, Ego Depletion, Self-control, Self-regulation
Chronic stress can cause serious health problems such as de-
pression or coronary heart disease (e.g., Miller & Blackwell,
2006), which is why an appropriate handling of stress is inevi-
table. Each individual has his or her own way of dealing with
stressful encounters. The strategies, which are chosen by an
individual in order to deal with stress, are referred to as coping,
meaning individual responses to stressful events (Folkman &
Lazarus, 1980). Coping can either be seen as a personality trait
(coping styles) or as a situational state (Endler & Kocovski,
2001). Viewing coping as a personality trait describes an indi-
viduals’ habitual preference to use particular coping strategies
in stressful situations, while situational coping is the actual
behavior in a stressful situation, which results from the interac-
tion between coping styles with situational and personal cha-
racteristics (Endler & Parker, 1994). Although many research-
ers view personality traits as immutable aspects of personality
(e.g. Costa & McCrae, 1997) there is also another point of view:
Personality aspects can change over the course of a life time
because of complex interactions between an individual and his
or her environment (Baltes, 1987; Baltes, Staudinger, & Lin-
According to Lazarus and Folkman (1984), individuals are
eager to reduce feelings of stress, and they initiate certain cop-
ing strategies in order to do so. However, not every coping
strategy will lead to a reduction of the perceived stress. Some
coping strategies are rather maladaptive in specific situations;
that is, they potentially increase instead of decrease perceived
stress. Therefore, these strategies are termed negative coping
strategies, whereas strategies that actually decrease stress are
termed positive coping strategies (e.g., Carver, Scheier, &
Weintraub, 1989). One approach that explicitly differentiates
between positive and negative coping strategies is postulated by
Janke and Erdmann (2002). The authors assign positive and
negative coping strategies to two broad factors, labelled posi-
tive and negative coping styles, where here, coping styles are
taken to mean a habitual tendency to use specific coping strate-
gies in stressful situations. Strategies that are subsumed under
the factor positive coping style include denial of guilt, distrac-
tion, minimization, positive self-instruction, reaction control,
situation control, and substitute gratification. Strategies assign-
ed to the factor negative coping style include escape, resigna-
tion, self-blame, and worrying.
A critical variable that seems to have an important impact on
coping with stress is self-control (Baumeister, Faber, & Wal-
lace, 1999). Self-control describes the process of controlling
and altering predominant responses in order to bring them in
line with social or individual norms. Therefore, self-control is
highly adaptive and helps individuals to achieve certain goals
(Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007). However, there are disposi-
tional differences in the capacity to exert self-control which are
associated with a broad variety of adaptive behaviors and the
ability to successfully regulate emotions (Tangney, Baumeister,
& Boone, 2004). For example, higher levels of dispositional
self-control capacity are related to less alcohol abuse under
stress, less binge-eating, better interpersonal skills, as well as
lower levels of trait anxiety (Finkel & Campbell, 2001; Tang-
ney et al., 2004).
In a study conducted by Mischel and colleagues (Mischel,
Shoda, & Peake, 1988), preschool participants’ ability to delay
gratification, a form of self-control, was a strong predictor of
their coping ability in a ten year follow up study. However, in
this study, individuals’ coping ability was only assessed via one
item rating the individuals’ general coping ability in compari-
son to other individuals of their age, which does not seem to be
an appropriate measure of the variety of coping styles that have
been identified by research. Gailliot and colleagues (Gailliot,
Schmeichel, & Baumeister, 2006; Gailliot, Schmeichel, &
Maner, 2007) have shown that individuals require self-control
to cope with thoughts about death. In their studies, the authors
C. ENGLERT ET AL. 599
primed participants with death and found out that participants
with higher levels of dispositional self-control capacity reported
less thoughts about death, implying they were more adapt at
coping with stress compared to participants with lower levels of
dispositional self-control. However, this particular study did not
yield any results about the use of specific coping styles when
confronted with death. As far as we know, no study has explic-
itly investigated the relationship between dispositional self-
control capacity and coping styles. So, one aim of the present
study is to test whether there is a relationship between disposi-
tional self-control capacity and individuals’ dispositional cop-
ing styles. We postulate in Study 1 that higher levels of disposi-
tional self-control are positively associated with a positive cop-
ing style and negatively associated with a negative coping style.
However, we suspect the anticipated relationship between
dispositional self-control capacity and coping styles to be me-
diated by trait anxiety. Over the course of the last century,
plenty of studies have investigated the phenomena of anxiety
and its effects on all different kinds of facets of human thinking
and human behavior, for instance, on performance, on mental
and physical health and well-being, and on social interactions
(e.g., Endler & Kocovski, 2001; Gaudry, Vagg, & Spielberger,
1975; Hembree, 1988). Like coping, anxiety can be defined as
either a situational state or as a personality trait, the latter
meaning a habitual tendency to feel anxious in specific situa-
tions (Endler & Kocovski, 2001; Gaudry et al., 1975; Spielber-
ger, Gorsuch, & Lushene, 1970). Individuals with higher levels
of dispositional self-control capacity are more adept at regulat-
ing their emotions (Gailliot et al., 2006; Gailliot et al., 2007)
and report lower levels of trait anxiety (Tangney et al., 2004).
Bertrams, Englert and Dickhäuser (2010) experimentally mani-
pulated participants’ momentary capacity to exert self-control
and found that trait test anxiety and state anxiety following a
test announcement were substantially positively related among
participants whose capacity to exert self-control was reduced;
however, participants with higher levels of trait test anxiety did
not develop higher levels of state anxiety after the test an-
nouncement compared to participants lower in trait test anxiety
when their capacity to exert self-control was intact. Therefore,
we assume that self-control is needed to regulate anxiety.
Furthermore, highly anxious individuals tend to use rather
maladaptive coping strategies (Bolger, 1990; Endler & Parker,
1990; Spielberger & Vagg, 1995; Zeidner, 1998). We are trying
to explain this pattern by introducing the attentional control
theory developed by Eysenck and colleagues (Eysenck, Derak-
shan, Santos, & Calvo, 2007). Eysenck et al. have stated that
anxiety impairs the functioning of the central executive
(Baddeley, 1986) by reducing its limited capacity, leading to
impairments in attentional control. This causes an imbalance
between the two attentional systems controlled by the central
executive: The top-down goal driven system, which helps indi-
viduals to achieve certain goals through planned behavior, and
the bottom-up stimulus driven system, which is influenced by
salient stimuli and thus prevents systematic information pro-
cessing (Corbetta & Shulman, 2002; Yantis, 1998). Under anxi-
ety, the bottom-up stimulus driven attentional system domi-
nates because it requires less cognitive capacity. The domi-
nance of the bottom-up system mainly affects two basic control
functions of the central executive (Miyake et al., 2000): Inhibi-
tion and shifting. Inhibition means the ability to resist distrac-
tion from task-irrelevant stimuli. Shifting describes the ability
to flexibly shift the attention back and forth between different
stimuli, depending on specific situational or personal demands.
Thus far, attentional control theory was only applied to enligh-
ten the negative influence of anxiety on cognitive performance
(e.g., Derakshan, Ansari, Hansard, Shoker, & Eysenck, 2009;
Eysenck et al., 2007).
We want to expand the adaptability of attentional control
theory by explaining the negative influence of anxiety on cop-
ing since shifting and inhibition seem to be important precondi-
tions for most positive coping strategies, but not so much for
negative coping strategies. We will explain this statement by
referring to the coping strategies assessed in the German Cop-
ing Questionnaire (Janke & Erdmann, 2002). For the use of
strategies subsumed under the factor positive coping style (i.e.,
denial of guilt, distraction, minimization, positive self-instruc-
tion, reaction control, situation control, and substitute gratifica-
tion) individuals are dependent on the inhibition and shifting
function. In the following, we refer to evidence supporting this
Bar-Haim and colleagues (Bar-Haim, Lamy, Pergamin, Baker-
mans-Kranenburg, & van IJzendoorn, 2007) reported that anxi-
ety is related to an attentional bias towards threat-related sti-
muli. This finding, on the one hand, can be explained by an im-
paired inhibition function, meaning that anxious individuals
cannot inhibit their impulse to mainly focus on the threatening
stimulus. Therefore, anxious individuals are supposed to have
problems applying the positive coping strategies reaction con-
trol (i.e., remain calm) and situation control (i.e., analyze the
situation objectively) when facing a stressful situation. On the
other hand, the attentional bias can also be explained by an
impaired shifting function, so that anxious individuals are not
capable of shifting their attention away from the threatening
stimuli to more pleasant stimuli. Therefore, anxious individuals
are supposed to have problems using the positive coping strate-
gies distraction (i.e., turn the attention away from the threat),
minimization (i.e., view their own problems as less threatening
than others’ problems), and substitute gratification (i.e., turn the
attention away from the threat and do something more pleasant
instead) when confronted with adversity. Additionally, the re-
maining two positive coping strategies (i.e., denial of guilt and
positive self-instruction) are supposed to be dependent on the
shifting and inhibition function as well: In order to be able to
deny feelings of guilt, one has to inhibit negative thoughts re-
sulting from a guilty conscious. Likewise, in order to be able to
instruct oneself positively during a stressful encounter, one has
to shift attention away from the threat and has to start thinking
about something positive instead.
Apart from Bar-Haim and colleagues (2007), Eysenck, Mac-
Leod, and Mathews (1987) deliver some support for our as-
sumptions as well. In their studies, highly trait anxious indi-
viduals show an interpretive bias since they are more likely to
interpret homophones (e.g., pain vs. pane; die vs. dye) in a
threatening way. This finding can also be explained by an im-
paired ability to inhibit the tendency to focus solely on threat-
ening aspects of stimuli, as well as by an impaired ability to
shift the attention away from threatening to more positive as-
pects of stimuli.
However, inhibition and shifting should not be essential for
the coping strategies subsumed under the factor negative coping
style (i.e., escape, resignation, self-blame, and worrying). For
instance, in order to escape or to resign, one does not merely
inhibit impulses, but instead one either avoids the situation
entirely or obeys the threatening situation and gives up. Also,
shifting is not essential for the usage of negative coping strate-
gies because worrying or self-blaming describe a tendency to
keep thinking about the threat rather than shifting the attention
away from it. Apart from the German Coping Questionnaire
C. ENGLERT ET AL.
(Janke & Erdmann, 2002), the coping strategies assessed in
other well established coping inventories, such as in the Ways
of Coping Questionnaire (WOCQ; Folkman & Lazarus, 1988)
or the COPE Inventory (Carver et al., 1989), can be rated in
terms of their dependence on the inhibition and shifting func-
tion as well; however, this will not be of central relevance for
the present paper.
All in all, the hypothesis of Study 2 can be summed up as
follows: The relationship between dispositional self-control
capacity and coping styles is mediated by trait anxiety, since
individuals with lower dispositional self-control capacity are
more likely to experience higher levels of anxiety because they
have less capacity to regulate their anxiety. Anxiety reduces the
capacity of the central executive, which impairs the inhibition
and shifting function. Every individual is somehow trying to
deal with the aversive feelings of stress (Zeidner, 1998), yet the
impairments of the inhibition and shifting function can have an
influence on individuals’ coping styles: Anxious individuals
should report a positive coping style less frequently than
non-anxious individuals, since for this style, the inhibition and
shifting functions are inevitable. Instead, anxious individuals
should report a negative coping style more often than non-
anxious ones because they do not have any other choice: The
fact that their inhibition and shifting functions are impaired
does not allow them to apply a positive coping style. Still, anxi-
ous individuals also react to stress in a specific way, and by that
they should report a negative coping style more often than
non-anxious individuals because for the application of this style,
the inhibition and shifting functions are not required.
The aim of the present study was to test whether disposi-
tional self-control capacity is related to habitual coping styles.
We postulated that higher levels of dispositional self-control are
positively associated with a positive coping style and nega-
tively associated with a negative coping style.
Participants included 163 students (100 female; Mage = 15.37,
SDage = 0.71) from a comprehensive secondary school (German
Gymnasium) from a middle-sized town in Germany. Informed
consent was obtained by parents and students before the study
Materials and Procedures
All data was collected during regular class sessions. First,
participants were asked to report their demographic data which
included information about their age, sex, and their mother
Next, participants worked on the German adaption of the
short form of the Self-Control Scale, which measures disposi-
tional self-control capacity (SCS; Tangney et al., 2004; German:
Bertrams & Dickhäuser, 2009). The participants needed to ans-
wer 13 items on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5
(very much). Four items referred to high self-control (e.g., “I
am good at resisting temptation”) while the other nine items
referred to low self-control (e.g., “I have a hard time breaking
bad habits”). These nine items had to be reversely coded, so
that higher values indicated a higher dispositional self-control
capacity. In the present sample, the scale showed a sufficient
internal consistency (Cronbach’s =.81).
In a next step, we assessed participants’ dispositional coping
styles using the aforementioned short version of the German
Coping Questionnaire SVF78 (Janke & Erdmann, 2002). Par-
ticipants were asked to rate 78 items that all start with the in-
troductory statement “When I am disturbed, irritated, or upset
by something or someone” followed by the actual item on a
5-point scale from 1 (never) to 5 (always). For instance, an item
for the positive coping strategy reaction control would be “I
am trying to control my behavior” and an item for the negative
coping strategy resignation would be “I feel helpless”. In the
present sample, the reliability for positive coping style (Cron-
bach’s = .87) as well as for negative coping style (Cronbach’s
= .89) was sufficient. The proposed factor structure of the
SVF78 has been replicated in a study by Ising and colleagues
(Ising, Weyers, Janke, & Erdmann, 2001), indicating that in the
present study, the assignment of the specific coping strategies
to either positive or negative coping styles was identical to the
assignment reported by Janke and Erdmann (2002).
The mean of the SCS was 2.83 (SD = 0.63), the mean for
positive coping style was 3.07 (SD = 0.41), and for negative
coping style, the mean was 2.77 (SD = 0.73).
We tested our hypothesis that higher levels of dispositional
self-control are positively associated with a positive coping
style and negatively associated with a negative coping style by
using path analysis including dispositional self-control capa-
city as a predictor for positive coping style and for negative
coping style. We applied AMOS 18.0 to calculate the model.
The relationships between the variables in this model were as
expected: Higher levels of dispositional self-control capacity
were positively associated with positive coping style (β = .11, p
= .05) and negatively associated with negative coping style (β =
−.32, p < .001). There was a negative relationship between
positive and negative coping style (β = −.18, p = .03). Figure 1
presents the path analysis diagram. The results support our
hypothesis: Dispositional self-control was related to habitual
coping styles. These results deliver im- portant additional in-
formation to previous studies investigating the relationship
between dispositional self-control and coping (Mischel et al.,
1988; Gailliot et al., 2006; Gailliot et al., 2007), by distin-
guishing between different coping stiles.
Path analysis diagram for the relation between dispositional self-con-
trol capacity and coping styles. Displayed are the standardized path
coefficients. *p < .05. **p < .01.
C. ENGLERT ET AL. 601
In Study 2 we focused on explaining the relationship be-
tween dispositional self-control capacity and the coping styles
we found in Study 1. We assumed that trait anxiety mediated
this relationship. We explain this expected pattern in two steps:
First, individuals with higher levels of dispositional self-control
capacity should be more adept at regulating their emotions, and
thus report lower levels of anxiety than individuals with lower
values of dispositional self-control capacity. Second, as pro-
posed by the attentional control theory (Eysenck et al., 2007)
we assumed that higher levels of trait anxiety would be associ-
ated with impairments in the shifting and inhibition functions
controlled by the central executive. To exercise the coping
strategies that Janke and Erdmann (2002) subsumed under
positive coping style, one needs to inhibit predominant re-
sponses to stressors; for example, applying the minimization
coping strategy can only be achieved if the individual is capable
of inhibiting his or her dominant tendency to panic when con-
fronted with a stressful situation. Or when applying the situa-
tion control strategy, one also needs to flexibly shift attention
away from the stressors and focus on the problem itself. There-
fore, trait anxiety is supposed to be negatively related to a posi-
tive coping style. On the other hand, in order to use strategies
subsumed under negative coping style, one needs neither to
inhibit predominant response (e.g., escape), nor to shift the
attention away from the threatening stimuli (e.g., resignation).
For this reason, we predicted that trait anxiety is positively
related to a negative coping style.
The analyses of Study 2 are based on a sample of 98 partici-
pants (72 female; Mage = 26.53; SDage = 8.23). The participants
were recruited by sending an online link to students registered
on anonymous mailing lists we received from two German
universities. They worked on an online survey for approxi-
mately 20 minutes. As a reward for their participation, the par-
ticipants had the chance to win one of five 20 Euro gift vouch-
ers (at that time approximately US$ 25). Informed consent was
obtained before the study was commenced.
Materials and Procedures
All data was collected using a specific online survey tool.
First, participants were asked to report their demographic data
which included information about their age, sex, profession,
and their mother tongue.
This study again contained the SCS to assess participants’
dispositional level of self-control capacity (Tangney et al., 2004;
German: Bertrams & Dickhäuser, 2009). The internal consis-
tency for the SCS was sufficient (Cronbach’s = .85).
Next, coping styles were measured with the SVF78 (Janke &
Erdmann, 2002). Internal consistencies for the positive coping
style (Cronbach’s = .84) and for the negative coping style
(Cronbach’s = .89) were satisfactory.
Other than these two measures, we also administered the
German trait version of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI;
Spielberger et al., 1970; German: Laux, Glanzmann, Schaffner,
& Spielberger, 1981) to measure participants’ degree of trait
anxiety. The STAI-trait consists of 20 items, with 13 items
assessing the presence of anxiety, such as “I get in a state of
tension or turmoil as I think over my recent concerns and inter-
ests”, and with seven items assessing the absence of anxiety
such as “I feel rested”. The items were answered on a 4-point
scale ranging from 1 (almost never) to 4 (almost always). The
seven items measuring the absence of anxiety had to be re-
versely coded, meaning that higher values represented higher
levels of trait anxiety. The internal consistency of the STAI in
the present sample was good (Cronbach’s = .89).
In this study, the mean for the SCS was 3.16 (SD = 0.69), the
mean for positive coping style was 3.15 (SD = 0.47) and for
negative coping style, the mean was 2.86 (SD = 0.71). Mean
score for the STAI-trait was 2.06 (SD = 0.44).
We used path analysis in order to test whether the relation-
ship between dispositional self-control capacity and coping
styles was mediated by trait anxiety. In a first model, we in-
cluded dispositional self-control capacity as a predictor for
positive coping style and for negative coping style. The rela-
tionships between the variables included in this model were as
expected: Higher levels of dispositional self-control capacity
were positively related to positive coping style (β = .13, p
= .06), and negatively related to negative coping style (β = −.49,
p < .001).
In a second path analysis, we included dispositional self-
control capacity, trait anxiety, and positive and negative coping
style to test the postulated mediation hypothesis. Figure 2 pre-
sents the path analysis diagram. In evaluating the postulated
model we used multiple indexes of fit since each of these in-
dexes evaluates the model slightly differently, and a good fit
from these various indexes increases the confidence in the
model (Hu & Bentler, 1995). Apart from the chi-square test
statistic, we have reported the Comparative Fit-Index (CFI), the
Root Mean Square-Error of Approximation (RMSEA), and the
Standardized-Root-Mean-Residual (SRMR). According to Hu
and Bentler (1999) a good model fit is indicated if the reported
fit indexes meet the following cut-off-criteria: CFI ≥ .95,
RMSEA ≤ 0.08, and SRMR ≤ .11. The fit for the model was as
follows: χ2(2, 98) = 2.99, p = .22, CFI = .99, RMSEA = .07,
and SRMR = .03. The reported indexes suggest a good fit of the
proposed model. Also, the relationships between the included
variables were as expected, indicated by the standardized path
coefficients: Higher levels of dispositional self-control capacity
were negatively related to trait anxiety (β = −.50, p < .001), and
trait anxiety was negatively related to positive coping style (β =
−.37, p < .001) and positively related to negative coping styles
(β = .75, p < .001). There was a negative relationship between
positive and negative coping style (β = −.20, p = .04).1
The results of our analysis support our hypothesis that the
relationship between dispositional self-control and coping
styles is mediated by trait anxiety.
In this paper, we analyzed the relationship between disposi-
tional self-control capacity, trait anxiety, and individuals’ cop-
ing styles. In a first study, we postulated that higher levels of
ispositional self-control capacity are associated with positive d
1If we additionally included direct paths from dispositional self-control ca-
acity to positive coping style and negative coping style, the overall model
did not fit. However, as this model has no df, we refrain from re
fit indexes. More importantly, the standardized path coefficients revealed
that there was no significant relationship between dispositional self-control
capacity and positive coping style (β = .01, p = .95) and negative coping
style (β = −.14, p = .09) in this path analysis, delivering additional sup
for our postulated mediation hypothesis.
C. ENGLERT ET AL.
Path analysis diagram for testing the mediating role of trait anxiety in explaning the relation between dispositional
self-control capacity and coping st yl es. Displayed are the st andardized path coefficients. *p < .05. ***p < .001.
coping style and negatively related to negative coping style.
The reason for the assumption is based on findings in the field
of self-control research, which indicate that people with higher
levels of dispositional self-control capacity are more adept in
handling themselves under stress (e.g., Gailliot et al., 2006;
Gailliot et al., 2007; Tangney et al., 2004). Our results support
We included trait anxiety as an additional variable in Study 2
to explain the findings of Study 1. First, like in Study 1, we
assumed that dispositional self-control capacity is positively
related to positive coping style and negatively related to nega-
tive coping style. Again, our results supported this hypothesis.
We further assumed that trait anxiety is negatively related to
positive coping style and positively related to negative coping
style. The findings of Study 2 also delivered evidence for this
second hypothesis. To test whether the relationship between
dispositional self-control capacity and coping styles is mediated
by trait anxiety, we utilized path analysis. Results were as
expected, since trait anxiety mediated the relationship between
dispositional self-control capacity and coping styles. We ex-
plain these results with findings in the field of self-control re-
search, indicating that self-control is required to down-regulate
anxiety (Bertrams et al., 2010). We further applied the atten-
tional control theory (Eysenck et al., 2007) as an explanation of
our results. Higher levels of anxiety impair two primary func-
tions of the central executive: Inhibition and shifting. For the
positive coping strategies assessed in our studies, these two
functions are essential because, for example, one needs to in-
hibit predominant responses to stress in order to minimize
averse feelings, and one needs to shift attention away from
threatening stimuli to control the stressful situation. On the
other hand, to use negative coping strategies, one is neither
dependent on the inhibition nor on the shifting function. For
instance, individuals having a dispositional tendency to resign
or worry in stressful situations do not have to have the ability to
shift their attention away from threatening stimuli. There is also
no need to inhibit negative thoughts in order to be able to apply
escape or self-blame strategies. Thus, the higher the anxiety, the
more difficult it is supposed to be to apply positive coping
strategies, whereas the usage of negative coping strategies
should not be impaired.
Although in the present studies self-control capacity was in-
cluded as a dispositional trait, it would be worthy to also look at
self-control as a situational state in future studies. Research has
shown that self-control is based on a limited resource (Bau-
meister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998) and after a pri-
mary exertion of self-control, the resource is temporarily de-
pleted (a state referred to as ego-depletion), leading to subse-
quently impaired self-control. Baumeister et al. (1999) postu-
lated that one major consequence of stress is that the self-con-
trol resource becomes depleted following a coping act (Bau-
meister et al., 1999; Muraven, Tice, & Baumeister, 1998).
However, no study, as far as we know, has yet investigated the
other route in the self-control-coping relationship. Namely, that
the self-control resource affects coping. A depleted self-control
resource should impair individuals’ momentary ability to con-
trol anxiety (Bertrams et al., 2010). As a consequence, anxiety
should negatively affect the inhibition and shifting function of
the central executive (Eysenck et al., 2007) and finally lead to
maladaptive situational coping. To test this assumption, an
experimental design could be applied in which participants’
self-control resource would be depleted in one condition but not
in a second condition. Such an approach would enable one to
not only report correlational relationships between self-control,
anxiety, and coping styles but to also discover the causal role of
This leads to a limitation of our study. The study design does
not allow inferring causal relationships between the involved
variables. Although the theoretical approach underlying the
present studies suggests causal directions in the relationships
between the variables, the question of causality has not been
empirically addressed. Testing the causal influence of anxiety
on situational coping may not be as easy as testing the influence
of self-control capacity. In the case of self-control capacity, a
C. ENGLERT ET AL. 603
manipulation of the self-control resource is quite common (e.g.,
Muraven et al., 1998). In contrast, an experimental manipula-
tion of anxiety, meaning actively inducing anxiety, may be
problematic from an ethical point of view.
A second limitation regards the exclusive use of self-report
measures, as all results of our studies are based on self-reports.
Especially in the SVF78 (Janke & Erdmann, 2002), individuals
rated their likely behaviour in a hypothetical setting; namely,
how they would react if they were disturbed, irritated, or upset
by something or someone. Therefore, future studies should not
only assess individuals’ coping behavior via self-report mea-
sures, but also by watching their actual coping behavior in a
The results presented in this article deliver a possible practi-
cal implication: Higher levels of dispositional self-control ca-
pacity were associated with lower levels of anxiety and with
positive coping style, so it may be useful to focus on self-con-
trol capacity in order to enable individuals to regulate their
anxiety and to enhance individuals’ coping skills. Baumeister
and colleagues (1998) compared the self-control resource to a
muscle that can grow following regular workout. Several train-
ing programs have been conducted to improve self-regulatory
strength (for an overview see Baumeister, Gailliot, DeWall, &
Oaten, 2006). For example, in a study conducted by Gailliot
and colleagues, participants were instructed to use their non-
preferred hand for everyday activities like brushing teeth or
avoiding using swear words over a 2-week period, which im-
proved their ability to exercise self-control (Gailliot, Plant, Butz,
& Baumeister, 2004). Following the results of our studies, a
regular exertion of self-control could increase individuals’
self-control capacity and thus reduce their anxiety, which, in
turn, could improve their coping skills.
All in all, the present article gives a first indication that
self-control capacity is a valuable variable that should be con-
sidered in anxiety and coping research.
The studies reported in this article have been supported by a
grant of the University of Mannheim to Alex Bertrams (AZ:
7530.0) and a grant from the German Research Foundation to
Oliver Dickhäuser (DI 929/2-3). We thank Anastasia Byler for
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