The Effect of Sex and Gender Role Orientation on Coping among Americans and Chinese: Does "Secure" Matter?
[Hairong Feng, Lin Xiu, & Yufei Ren. The Effect of Sex and Gender Role Orientation on Coping among Americans and Chinese: Does "Secure" Matter?. China Media Research, 15(3):18-32] 3
Keywords: secure attachment style, emotional coping, instrumental coping, sex, gender role orientation, culture
More than 300 million people worldwide report that they have suffered from stress, with the estimated cost to the global economy at US$ one trillion per year (WHO, 2017). Top causes of stress include job pressure, financial situations, relationship, health, and political climate (APA, 2017). People often cope with stressful situations by using a variety of strategies, such as seeking and receiving emotional or instrumental support from relational others, using spiritual power, and/or avoiding the stressful situation (Burleson & Mortenson, 2003; Feng & Wilson, 2012). While there are a variety of approaches to study coping, individual differences in coping stability-variability have been recognized as important factors in coping effectiveness and adaptational outcomes in stressful encounters (Oreg & Berson, 2015; Ptacek & Gross, 1997; Shaheen, Jahan, & Shaheen, 2014).
The dispositional paradigm of coping primarily concerns coping as an individual difference variable. It highlights coping consistency: how people "typically" or "usually" deal with stressful events. Stability of coping may be best aligned with personality. There have been continuous attempts to link personality constructs to coping with the thought that personality reflects the broadest organizing axes of our behavioral adaptation systems (DeYoung, 2010; MacDonald, 2012). Research finds that personality and coping have an empirical relationship (Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010). Our study highlights two personality constructs--gender role orientation and secure attachment style. Gender role orientation, namely masculinity and femininity, impacts an individual's preferred way of stress coping in addition to an individual's biological sex (Burleson et al., 2009; Feng & Xiu, 2016), whereas attachment style that emphasizes the working model of self and others affects people's coping appraisals and actions (Collins & Feeney, 2000; Floyd & Denes, 2015). In this study, we examine how secure attachment style moderates the relationship among sex, gender role orientation, and coping.
Most often exemplified by masculinity and femininity, gender role orientation as a personality construct has derived research interests with regard to its influence on coping and support across disciplines (e.g., Burleson et al., 2009; High & Solomon, 2014). Gender role orientation has become a focal point partly because of its close relationship with the construct of sex. Research continues to find small but consistent differences in the tendency for women to be more expressive and emotion-focused when seeking or providing support compared with men and their tendency to be more instrumental and action-focused (e.g., Kunkel & Burleson, 1999; Roy, Tremblay, Robertson, & Houle, 2017). Regardless of sex, individuals who demonstrate masculine characteristics often display fewer emotion-focused coping strategies. In contrast, individuals who have feminine characteristics often show higher levels of emotion-focused coping (Dyson & Renk, 2006; Feng & Xiu, 2016). In addition, recent research reveals that gender role orientation, in particular, femininity, mediates the effect of sex on coping across the two cultures of the U.S. and China (Feng & Xiu, 2016).
However, the effect of gender role orientation on stress coping has only been approached from a general perspective without considering the contingency of such effects. In fact, the existence and the magnitude of the effect of gender role orientation on stress coping might depend on how individuals view themselves and their relationship with others. Not all women and individuals with high femininity ratings seek more emotion-based coping strategies, and likewise, not all men and individuals with low femininity ratings seek more instrumental coping. These observations suggest that the presence of other personality factors may moderate the relationship of sex/gender role orientation and coping. Recently, research has shown that attachment theory provides a rich account of coping development and coping consistency (for review, see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2009). The effect of sex and gender role orientation on stress coping may depend on individual differences in attachment. To this regard, attachment theory plays an important role in explaining individual differences in coping.
Attachment theory was developed by Bowlby (1969, 1980). Secure base and internal working models in attachment theory speak to the issue of coping development (Goldberg, 2014; Ptacek & Gross, 1997). A secure base means an individual may venture from the proximity of the caregiver to explore the environment with a sense of security. This is analogous to assessing the availability of support prior to attempting a task that may necessitate support from others (Goldberg, 2014). Working models refer to beliefs about relationships between self and others. Research with regard to adult attachment defines four prototypic attachment styles: secure, preoccupied, dismissive, and fearful (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). In this study, we focus on secure attachment because of its close relationship with coping and support. The secure attachment pattern reflects feelings of the self as worthy of love and acceptance by others, the view of others as supportive and available, and the willingness to seek help when needed (Bartholomew, 1990). Several earlier studies document that secure individuals are more likely to experience the availability of support and report receiving more and better social support (for review, see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2009). Whereas existing research shows that sex and gender role orientation independently and collaboratively influence individuals' stress coping choices (Feng & Xiu, 2016) and secure attachment affects people's coping appraisals and actions (Floyd & Denes, 2015) and evaluation of supportive messages (Bodie et al., 2011), little research has examined how secure attachment, sex, and gender role orientation collaboratively affect people's coping choices. Since attachment is considered fundamental in explaining consistent coping behaviors as contended in earlier research (e.g., Ptacek & Gross, 1997), the existence and magnitude of the effect of sex and gender role orientation on stress coping might be contingent on how individuals view themselves and their relationships with others.
Further, attachment style highlights the working model of self and others--the individuals' evaluation of self and other relationships affects how they would cope with stress, particularly when seeking support is used as a way of coping. Research indicates that self-other relations differ significantly across cultures so that the development of an individual's attachment styles may vary across cultures (e.g., Agishtein & Brumbaugh, 2013). Hence, it is a worthwhile endeavor to examine the effects of secure attachment style on coping strategies across cultures. Our focal cultures are the U.S. and China because self-other relationships in the two cultures are evidently different (Hofstede, 2001; Zhu, Wang & Chong., 2016).
In sum, our study primarily focuses on exploring (a) the moderating effect of secure attachment style on the influence of gender role orientations on coping, (b) the moderating effect of secure attachment style on the mediation model of sex, gender role orientation, and coping, and (c) the impact of national culture in the relationships among sex, gender role orientation, secure attachment, and coping. In the following sections, we first define coping, then review relevant literature on attachment theory and coping; sex, gender role orientation, and coping; and cultural variations in attachment style and coping. A set of hypotheses are generated accordingly.
Literature Review and Hypotheses
We define coping as making a conscious effort to minimize stress generated from a problematic situation (Carver, 1997; Feng & Xiu, 2016). Coping primarily focuses on how the stressed person manages to reduce his/her own anxiety through various means of coping, such as emotional coping, instrumental coping, positive reframing, planning, denial, religion, and so forth. In this study, we focus on two types of coping: instrumental coping and emotional coping, given that they are frequently used coping strategies. Instrumental coping means asking for/receiving advice, assistance, and/or information to fix a problem or improve the problematic situation in the future. Emotional coping refers to asking for/obtaining emotional comfort, sympathy, or understanding when experiencing a stressful event (Burleson & Mortenson, 2003). Instrumental coping and emotional coping are, therefore, closely related to social support seeking.
Secure Attachment and Coping
How people deal with a given stressful event has been shown to relate to how they appraise themselves, their resources, and the situation (Bowlby, 1980; Dardas & Ahmad, 2015; Oreg & Berson, 2015). Security is associated with trusting and satisfying intimate relationships (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2012), balanced appraisals of potential stressors (Floyd & Denes, 2015), the ability to seek out support as one of a range of coping responses when threatened (e.g., Mikulincer & Shaver, 2012), and the tendency to make relatively positive attributions of the relationship partner's behaviors (Feeney & Thrush, 2010).
People who report a secure attachment history tend to have positive self-images and higher self-esteem, viewing themselves as outgoing, well-liked, and socially competent. And such people tend to view others as responsive, available, trustworthy, and well-meaning (e.g., Goldberg, 2014). Secure individuals are able to acknowledge distress and to turn to others for comfort and support, confident in the expectation that others will be responsive. At each step in the process, security of attachment is expected to facilitate the process of obtaining social support. Therefore, it is not surprising that security of attachment has been found to be predictive of perceived social support (e.g., Bartholomew, Cobb, & Poole, 1997; Stanton & Campbell, 2014). Secure individuals are also expected to draw on a range of coping strategies and show the greatest flexibility in response to stress, depending on the situation and availability of social support. Blain, Thompson, and Whiffen (1993) examined the interaction between working models of self and others in relation to perceptions of social support. They found that both a positive model of self and a positive model of others were required for high levels of perceived support from friends and family. Richards and Schat (2011) found that secure individuals were more likely to seek support at work when facing work-related challenges.
Gender, Secure Attachment, and Stress Coping
The effect of sex/gender role on coping and support has been studied extensively across disciplines. Studies show that men and women are different in seeking instrumental and emotional support. Men are believed to exhibit more problem-oriented coping behaviors, such as confronting the problems and trying to come up with solutions. Women, on the other hand, are believed to be more likely to seek emotional support by venting emotions, ruminating, or spending more time discussing the problem with friends or family (Eschenbeck, Kohlmann, & Lohaus, 2007; Tamres, Janicki, & Helgeson, 2002). In addition to the impact of biological sex, individuals' differences in gender role orientation also affect stress coping behaviors (Nezu & Nezu, 1987; Thoits, 2013). Gender role orientation is a personality trait that refers to individuals' perceptions of their own femininity and masculinity (Bem, 1974), which could be influenced by both biological factors, such as hormones (e.g., Callens et al., 2016) and the socialization process (e.g. Leszczynski, 2009). Several studies have shown that, regardless of their biological sex, individuals who are high on femininity are more likely to pursue emotion-focused coping while those who are more masculine tend to rely more on problem-focused coping (Dyson & Renk, 2006; Jones, Mendenhall, & Myer, 2016).
Recently, Feng and Xiu (2016) proposed a mediation model of sex, gender role orientation, and coping with the goal of examining how gender role orientation mediates the influence of sex on instrumental and emotional coping. Built on a sample of nearly five hundred participants from the two cultures of the U.S. and China, Feng and Xiu (2016) found that femininity mediated the influence of sex on both emotional and instrumental coping in both cultures, and the mediation effects were significantly different between American and Chinese respondents.
Given the important function that secure attachment plays in coping as contended earlier, we argue that, in addition to directly impacting on how people cope with stress, secure attachment may modify the influence of sex/gender role orientation on instrumental and emotional coping. Hence, in this study, we propose that the relationship between gender role orientation and coping may vary with levels of individuals' secure attachment. Even though females in general are more likely to have femininity characteristics and are more likely to use emotional coping, females or individuals with a feminine orientation who have a lower level of secure attachment may not be much different from their male counterparts or individuals of masculine orientation in the use of emotional and instrumental coping. However, females or individuals with a feminine orientation who have a higher level of secure attachment may use significantly more emotional coping and/or instrumental coping than males or individuals with masculine orientation. Therefore, we hypothesize the effects of gender role orientation on stress coping are contingent on an individual's level of secure attachment.
H1a. The effects of gender role orientation on instrumental coping strategies will be moderated by individuals' levels of secure attachment.
H1b. The effects of gender role orientations on emotional coping strategies will be moderated by individuals' levels of secure attachment.
Furthermore, Feng and Xiu (2016) found that the femininity dimension of gender role orientation appears to play a significant role in the relationship between sex and coping. Femininity mediates the influence of sex on both emotional and instrumental coping. Given our arguments above, we further hypothesize that an individual's level of secure attachment moderates the mediation role that femininity plays in the relationship between sex and coping.
H2a. Individuals' levels of secure attachment moderate the mediation model of the effect of sex on instrumental coping via femininity.
H2b. Individuals' levels of secure attachment moderate the mediation model of the effect of sex on emotional coping via femininity.
The hypothesized moderated mediation model is presented in Figure 1.
The Effect of Sex, Gender Role Orientation, and Secure Attachment on Coping Across Cultures
The attachment system is adaptable to environmental demands (Bowlby, 1969). The development of individuals' feelings of security varies across cultures depending on culture-specific ways of socialization (Agishtein & Brumbaugh, 2013; Ainsworth, 1967; Fiori, Consedine, & Magai, 2009). People in different cultures have strikingly different construals of self, other, and the relationship between self and other (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Individuals in collectivistic cultures tend to possess stronger desire to conform to the expectations of others (Zhu et al., 2016), and are inclined to judge the self in terms of interconnectedness and the value that they provide to others (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Indeed, Schmitt et al. (2004) found that East Asia was distinctive in that it was the only region among the ten cultural regions in the world where the model of other scores were conspicuously higher than the model of self scores.
Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated that East Asian cultures tend to emphasize the fundamental relatedness of individuals to each other as well as the harmonious interdependence among individuals, while the American culture does not endorse such an overt connectedness among individuals (Vargas & Kemmelmeier, 2013; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). However, cultural differences could also be substantial within East Asian countries (Mesman, van IJzendoorn, & Sagi-Schwarz, 2016). For instance, cultures in Japan and South Korea have been viewed as closer to those of Western countries after World War II (Hoffman, 2016; Lewis, 2013), and individuals in China tend to give higher ratings for interpersonal harmony compared to other East Asian countries such as Japan and South-Korea (Zhang, Lin, Nonaka, & Beom, 2005). Furthermore, differences in demographics, ethnicity, religion, and language may also lead to cultural differences within East Asian cultures. For instance, the larger family size and its predominant religion belief in Muslim in Indonesia set its culture apart from countries such as China and South Korea (Mesman et al., 2016). Given the substantial cultural differences among countries within East Asia, in this study we pay particular attention to one of the East Asian cultures--China--and examine the impact of cultural difference between the U.S. and China on coping in particular.
The value placed on close connection and interdependence in China leads individuals to endorse more likely items that indicate high anxiety, which in turn leads to a lower level of secure attachment (Wang & Mallinckrodt, 2006). Empirical studies have found a relatively lower rate of secure styles in Chinese culture compared to that in Western countries (Mesman et al., 2016). However, scoring low on security attachment, such as being concerned about relationship issues that is typically viewed as inferior in Western cultures, may be culturally acceptable and even desirable in China (Wang & Scalise, 2010; Zhu et al., 2016). Furthermore, high reliance on interdependence might create a higher sense of perceived social support, resulting in less negative outcomes for attachment insecurities. Findings of a previous study conducted in the U.S. and China indicated that association between attachment insecurities and perceived social support is weaker in China than in the U.S. (Zhu et al., 2016).
Gender role orientation also varies across cultures. Hofstede (1980, 2001) reported that China ranked in the middle of an index measuring masculinity, whereas the United States scored above average. Cultures scoring high on masculinity have characteristics such as beliefs in individual decisions and maximum emotional and social role differentiation between the genders. Men are expected to be tough and take care of performance, and women should be tender and take care of relationships. Cultures scoring low on masculinity demonstrate features such as beliefs in group decisions and minimum emotional and social role differentiation between the genders. Men are expected to be tender and take care of both performance and relationships, and women should be the same.
In addition, individuals in different cultures are exposed to distinct social norms, and thus develop a different understanding of the social expectations and stress coping behavior that is acceptable and desired. Several studies have found that members of collectivist cultures, such as China, were less likely than members of individualist cultures to seek social support (Feng, 2015) or to actively elicit social support in times of stress (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2012).
Given the cultural variations in secure attachment, gender role orientation, and expectations of coping behavior, we hypothesize:
H3a. The joint effects of sex, gender role orientation, and secure attachment on instrumental coping differ in the U.S. and China.
H3b. The joint effects of sex, gender role orientation, and secure attachment on emotional coping differ in the U.S. and China.
The participants were 243 American college students (127 women, 116 men; mean age = 21.3 years) recruited from a Midwest University in the United States, and 235 Chinese college students (170 women, 65 men; mean age = 20.4 years) recruited from two universities in Beijing, China. Among the American participants, 181 (74.5%) have part-time jobs. The self-reported ethnicities of the American participants included Caucasian (89.3%), African Americans (2.5%), Hispanic (1.2%), Asian American (2.5%), and others (5.4%).
Among the Chinese participants, 52 (22.1%) have part-time jobs. In term of ethnicity, 206 (87.7%) of them self-identified as Han ethnicity, and 29 (12.3%) self-identified as members of ethnic minorities.
After receiving approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the authors' university as well as from officials at the Chinese universities, we conducted surveys in both the U.S. and China. The Chinese students were recruited from English classes that were taken by undergraduate students of all majors in China. Students were told that their participation was voluntary and anonymous. After informed consent was acquired, participants voluntarily participated in the study during class periods. All materials were originally drafted in English. They were translated into Chinese and validated through a double-translation process when used in China. To ensure the accuracy of the translation, after the translation-back-translation procedure, two bilingual scholars compared the results to ensure each of the survey questions was phrased clearly and accurately. Undergraduate students of various majors enrolled in several communication and management courses composed the U.S. participant group. The survey took about 15 minutes, and students received extra credits for completing the survey.
Gender Role Orientation Scale. To measure gender role orientation, we used the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI; Bem, 1974). This questionnaire consisted of 60 items on a 7-point scale ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." Twenty of the items were stereotypically masculine (e.g. independent, aggressive, dominant), twenty were stereotypically feminine (e.g. affectionate, gentle, sympathetic), and twenty were gender-neutral (e.g. friendly, conscientious, conceited). According to Bem (1974), masculinity and femininity are two separate but related constructs. Although the scores for these two subscales can be used to derive four gender role orientation categories (i.e., feminine, masculine, androgynous, and undifferentiated), more recent studies have used the continuous features of the femininity/masculinity scales to optimize the BSRI's estimation power (e.g., Dyson & Renk, 2006; Feng & Xiu, 2016). In this study, we used masculinity and femininity as two continuous measures of gender role orientation. The internal reliability estimate was 0.85 for the masculinity scale and 0.74 for the femininity scale.
Stress Coping Scale. Even though coping could be contextual and may vary across situations (Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010), studies in both the communication and psychology fields have shown that people have preferred coping strategies that they use relatively consistently across a range of situations (Moos & Holahan, 2003) and over time (Powers et al., 2002). To measure participants' stress coping styles, we used the COPE inventory in its brief form (Carver, 1997). In this study, we focused on two coping strategies--instrumental coping vs. emotional coping. A sample item for instrumental coping was "I've been trying to get advice or help from other people about what to do," whereas, a sample item for emotional coping was "I've been getting comfort and understanding from someone." Following the original scale (Carver, 1997), a 4-point scale was used, ranging from "I haven't been doing this at all" to "I've been doing this a lot." The internal reliability was 0.72 for seeking instrumental coping and 0.79 for seeking emotional coping.
Attachment Style Scale. To measure participants' attachment styles, we used the security scale of attachment styles developed by Guerrero, Farinelli, & McEwan (2009) based on a series of items assessing attachment styles dimensions originally used in Feeney, Noller, and Hanrahan (1994) and Guerrero (1996). The original scale included items that measure four different types of attachment styles--secure, preoccupied, dismissive, and fearful. In this study, we paid particular attention to the level of security measurement and related it with the way individuals cope with stress. Security was measured with seven items (e.g., "I rarely worry that others might reject me") on a 7-point scale, ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." Guerrero et al. (2009) showed that the continuous measure is closely related to the categorical measures in Bartholomew and Horowitz's (1991) original framework using paragraph descriptions but provided further estimation power given the variation in the dimension. The internal reliability estimate was 0.79 for the scale.
Table 1 presents descriptive statistics, including the means and standard deviations calculated from the data. The participants were 243 American college students (127 women, 116 men; Mean age = 21.3years, SD = 1.4) and 235 Chinese college students (170 women, 65 men; Mean age = 20.4 years, SD = 2.4). We performed regression analysis and Hayes's (2013) conditional process analysis for testing the relationships in the hypothesized model shown in Figure 1.
The moderating role of one's secure attachment level on coping
We first examined whether the effect of gender role orientation on coping varies by attachment styles. We paid particular attention to the effect of an individual's secure attachment level in such a relationship by utilizing the continuous nature of the variable that measures how "secure" an individual is.
As shown in Table 2, the regression coefficient for the interaction term of one's secure level and femininity is positive and statistically significant, showing that the effect of femininity on instrumental coping increases with one's secure attachment level. Also significant is the conditional effect of femininity. In the category of people who score average in secure feelings (because secure is mean centered in the analysis) but are of the same sex, national culture, and age, two individuals who differ by one unit in their femininity (on a 7-point scale) are estimated to differ by 0.62 units (t = 5.17, p < 0.01) in their use of instrumental coping (on an 8-point scale). Process analysis confirms this finding. As shown in Figure 2-a, the slopes of the lines correspond to the conditional effects of femininity on the use of instrumental coping for values of secure level corresponding to the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th percentiles of the distribution. As can be seen, the effect of femininity on instrumental coping is steeper among those with a higher level of security. That is, the effect of femininity on instrumental coping is larger among the relatively more secure individuals than it is among the less secure individuals.
The effects of femininity on emotional coping follow the same pattern. The results are summarized in Table 3 and Figure 2-b. The effect of femininity on emotional coping (b = 0.22, p < 0.05) is stronger among more secure individuals than it is among less secure individuals. H1a and H1b are supported. In contrast, masculinity does not have a significant effect on either instrumental coping or emotional coping, as shown in Table 2 and Table 3.
The moderating role of secure attachment style on the mediation model
Earlier studies show that femininity serves as a mediator between sex and coping (Feng & Xiu, 2016). As contended earlier, secure attachment style may moderate the effect of femininity on coping, we examined the effects of an individual's level of secure attachment on the mediation model of sex, gender role orientation, and coping.
First, we conducted mediation analysis without considering one's secure attachment level. In Table 4, process analysis shows that femininity mediates the effect of sex on instrumental and emotional coping, as evidenced by the significant indirect effects (b = 0.19, p < 0.01) for both instrumental and emotional coping. Second, following the theoretical framework summarized in Figure 1, we estimated the moderated mediation model by introducing the moderator--secure attachment level. As shown in Table 5, the moderated mediation model is statistically significant (index = 0.08, p < 0.05). The effect of femininity is indeed contingent on an individual's secure level. To demonstrate the pattern, we show the direct effect and indirect effect at three secure attachment levels--"low" (a SD below the mean), "medium" (at the mean), and "high" (a SD above the mean). As the secure level increases, the total effect (i.e., the sum of the direct effect and the indirect effect) of being female on the use of instrumental coping increases from 0.66 (the sum of the direct effect, b = 0.53, p < 0.05, and the indirect effect, b = 0.13, p < 0.05) at low secure level to 0.80 (the sum of the direct effect, b = 0.52, p < 0.05, and the indirect effect, b = 0.28, p < 0.05) at the high secure level; the direct effect slightly decreases from 0.53 to 0.52, and the indirect effect through femininity increases from 0.13 to 0.28. The proportion of indirect effect in the overall sex difference in coping increases from 19.7% at the low secure level to 27.8% at the medium level and 35.0% at the high secure level. The moderated mediation test shows that the difference is statistically significant.
We followed the same procedure examining the model with emotional coping as the dependent variable. Results are shown in Table 6. The moderated mediation test is also significant (index = 0.08, p < 0.05), showing that the mediation model changes at different levels of an individual's secure attachment. One difference from the instrumental coping results is that both direct and indirect effects of being female on the use of emotional coping increase as one's secure level improves. The direct effects and indirect effects increase from 0.44 (p = 0.05) and 0.13 (p < 0.05) at the lower secure level to 0.71 (p < 0.01) and 0.28 (p < 0.05) at the high secure level, respectively.
Taken together, these results show that (1) women are more likely to seek both instrumental and emotional support; (2) gender difference in the use of seeking support is greater as one's secure level increases, which is mainly due to the fact that women's higher score on femininity leads to greater use of coping strategies as women possess a higher secure attachment level. H2a and H2b are supported.
The moderated mediation model across cultures
Further, we conducted the conditional process analysis on the U.S. and Chinese samples separately. Results are summarized in Table 7 (US sample) and Table 8 (Chinese sample). The general findings are consistent with results on the combined sample, that is, security level moderates the mediating role of femininity in the relationship between sex and coping. For both samples, the indirect effects through femininity are greater among those who are more secure.
Despite the similarity, there are several differences between the findings on the U.S. and Chinese samples that are worth noting. First, for individuals at low secure levels in China, femininity does not play a role as a mediator between sex and the use of instrumental and emotional coping strategies, as shown by the insignificant indirect effects (b = 0.10, p > 0.1 for instrumental coping; b = 0.10, p > 0.1 for emotional coping). In contrast, American women at low secure attachment levels still are more likely than men to use instrumental and emotional coping. Both direct effects (b = 0.66, p < 0.05 for instrumental coping; b = 0.77, p < 0.01 for emotional coping) and indirect effects (b = 0.26, p < 0.05 for instrumental coping; b = 0.26 for emotional coping) are significant. Also, women participants in the U.S. scored high on femininity, and femininity leads to more use of instrumental and emotional coping even though the mediation role played by femininity tends to be smaller than that among more secure individuals. Second, the moderated mediation models differ across cultures. Specifically, in the U.S. sample, femininity partially mediates the relationship between sex and instrumental coping across all secure levels even though the percentage of the indirect effect in the total effect increases from 28.3%, that is, 0.26/(0.66+0.26) for low secure individuals to 48.9%, that is, 0.48/(0.50+0.48) for high secure individuals. The role of femininity in the relationship between sex and emotional coping follows the same pattern. In contrast, in the Chinese sample, femininity fully mediates the relationship between sex and both coping strategies at medium and high secure levels.
We developed an integrated model to examine the joint effects of biological sex, gender role orientation, and secure attachment style on individuals' stress coping strategies in the two cultures of the U.S. and China. In particular, it focused on examining the moderating role of secure attachment style in the relationships among sex, gender role orientation, and coping strategies, and how these relationships differ across the two cultures of the U.S. and China. We found (a) the effects of gender role orientation on individuals' stress coping strategies are contingent on an individual's secure attachment level; (b) femininity accounts for a larger portion of sex difference in coping as an individual's secure level increases; and (c) the joint effect of sex, gender role orientation, and secure attachment style on coping strategies varies across the two cultures of the U.S. and China. Our findings have implications about understanding variations in stress coping strategies both within sexes and between sexes and both within cultures and across cultures from the attachment theory perspective.
First, the current study extends the literature on the relationship between attachment styles and social support. Earlier studies document that "secure" individuals are more likely to experience the availability of the support and report receiving more and better social support (for a review, see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2009), and attachment styles may modify the effects of gender on the appraisal of social support (Burleson et al., 2011). Our findings extend these findings by showing that higher levels of security lead to use of instrumental coping more, and the level of security modifies men and women's different use of coping strategies.
Second, this study provides new insights into gender variations in stress coping. Previous studies have shown that men and women rely on different strategies in stress coping. The present research contributes to this line of literature by demonstrating that the existence and magnitude of gender role effects on coping are contingent upon an individual's secure attachment level. In contrast to earlier studies showing that women and men cope with stress differently through mechanisms such as cognitive complexity, self-efficacy, interactional goal orientation, expressivity-instrumentality, and gender role orientation (Davis, Burleson, & Kruszewski, 2011; Brougham, Zail, Mendoza, & Miller, 2009; Feng & Xiu, 2016), the findings of this study indicate that the role of these mechanisms may be modified by an individual's secure attachment level. For example, Feng and Xiu (2016) found that femininity, but not masculinity, plays a significant role in the relationship between sex and coping for both U.S. and Chinese samples. Yet, our findings show that this mediating effect by femininity is contingent on an individual's secure attachment level. Gender role orientation, specifically femininity, plays a greater role in coping as an individual's secure level increases. By examining how an individual's secure level shapes the effect of gender role orientation, we discover that the existence and direction of the gender role orientation effect could vary at different secure levels. Future studies should explore the influence of secure attachment style on other mechanisms between sex and coping strategies that have been established in the literature, such as cognitive complexity, self-efficacy, and interactional goal orientation.
Additionally, the current research provides evidence on how individual difference variables of gender role and secure attachment play an important role in predicting stress coping across cultures. Even though many studies have examined how individuals differ in their stress coping strategies within Western cultures (e.g., Davis, Burleson, & Kruszewski, 2011), association between individual difference variables and coping in the Chinese context remains relatively understudied, resulting in a lack of meaningful cross-cultural examination. Research has shown that the internal working model specified by attachment theory is valid in both Western (e.g. Burleson et al., 2011) and Chinese contexts (e.g., Chui & Leung, 2016), but it remains unclear whether and how the impact of attachment style on stress coping would be different in these cultures. Our study found, across the cultures of the U.S. and China, sex and gender role orientation have a different influence on how one copes with stress when secure attachment level is considered. These findings demonstrate how individual difference factors could interact with cultural factors and jointly impact one's coping strategies, which echoes Schmitt et al.'s (2004) findings that attachment styles could stimulate divergent influences on how individuals cope with stress under different social norms in different cultures.
Limitations and Future Research Directions
The present study shows that individual and personality differences such as gender role orientation and secure attachment are related to the use of stress coping strategies in a systematic way. We found that individuals with certain personality traits dispositionally prefer certain coping strategies. Given the nature of the research design, we are not able to discern whether these relationships are conditional on the stress contextual factors such as the nature of the stressors (Tamres et al., 2002). Thus, we encourage future research to explore whether the relationships between sex, gender role orientation, attachment styles, and coping strategies are contingent on the differences of stressors and the individuals' appraisal of the stressors.
More importantly, we suggest that the findings of this study be interpreted with cautions in terms of its generalizability. The Chinese sample was drawn from two universities in a northern city in mainland China, and the findings based on this sample may not be generalizable to all Chinese. First of all, cultural differences exist between mainland Chinese and Chinese from other places such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and overseas (e.g., Fung et al., 2017). Secondly, even within mainland China cultures could vary across regions (Kwon, 2012) and ethnicities (Gustafsson & Ding, 2009). For instance, Kwon (2012) compared the five cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 2001) between two big cities in mainland China and found that even under one single political and legal environment, economic development shows divergent effects on the cultures in different cities. Also, the U.S. sample was drawn from a Midwest university, which may not represent the culture in other regions of that country. In fact, both U.S. and China are culturally heterogeneous countries where cultures vary across regions, ethnicity, gender, religion, and race. Future research may further examine how the cultural differences within the country interact with gender and gender role orientation impacting the use of stress coping strategies.
Furthermore, given the correlational nature of the data, no causal inference could be drawn on the relationships among the variables. Future longitudinal research will further elucidate the relationships among the variables in the present study. Another limitation stems from the common research method. In the future, empirical studies could collect information on gender role orientation, attachment styles, and stress coping from different sources (self vs. other) and use a variety of methods such as survey and scenario-based experiments to understand better the effects of attachment styles on coping strategies. In addition, our study finds that secure attachment style, sex, and gender role orientation jointly explain more variance in coping in the U.S. sample than in the Chinese sample. Such a difference may be attributed to the fact that individuals in China are more likely to conform to the social norms of maintaining a harmonious relationship and not disturbing relational others. Existing research does reveal that compared with European Americans, East Asians and Asian Americans are less likely to seek emotional and instrumental support as a way of coping (e.g., Kim, Sherman, & Taylor, 2008). Therefore, individual differences such as sex, gender role orientation, and secure attachment style explain less of the variance in individuals' coping preferences among Chinese compared to their U.S. counterparts. Future research could provide more insight into this by examining how attachment styles and gender role orientation are associated with conformity to social norms and how such attitudinal and behavioral patterns are related to stress coping.
Hairong Feng, Ph.D.
Department of Communication College of Liberal Arts University of Minnesota Duluth Duluth, MN 55812, USA
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Hairong Feng, Lin Xiu, & Yufei Ren University of Minnesota Duluth, USA
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics N Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Deviation Age 478 1 49 20.88 3.29 Sex (1, Male; 2, 478 1 2 1.62 .49 Female) Security 478 1.00 7.00 4.89 .93 Femininity Score 478 3.00 6.90 5.04 .60 Masculinity Score 478 2.65 7.00 5.02 .78 Culture (0 US; 1 478 0 1 .49 .50 China) Instrumental 478 2.00 8.00 5.48 1.57 Emotional 478 2.00 8.00 5.33 1.66 Table 2. Regression Analysis Examining the Moderation of Gender Role Orientation on Instrumental Coping by Secure level Model 1 B S.E. Beta t B Constant 4.79 (***) .47 10.29 4.83 (***) Sex .43 (***) .15 .13 2.85 .41 (***) F-Score .62 (***) .12 .24 5.17 .65 (***) M-Score -.01 .10 -.01 -.12 .00 Age -.00 .02 -.00 -.08 -.00 Secure .13 (*) .08 .08 1.69 .12 Nation .92 (***) .15 .29 6.08 .91 (***) F-score (*)Secure .20 (**) R-square 0.16 Model 2 S.E. Beta t Constant .46 10.40 Sex .15 .13 2.73 F-Score .12 .25 5.39 M-Score .10 .00 .00 Age .02 -.01 -.15 Secure .08 .07 1.52 Nation .15 .29 6.06 F-score (*)Secure .10 .09 2.10 R-square 0.17 Note: (***)0.01 (**)0.05 (*)0.1 significance levels. F-score, M-score and Secure level are mean centered. Table 3. Regression Analysis Examining the Moderation of Gender Role Orientation on Emotional Coping by Secure level Model 1 B S.E. Beta t B Constant 4.57 (***) .50 9.13 4.61 (***) Sex .52 (***) .16 .15 3.18 .50 (***) F-Score .60 (***) .13 .22 4.68 .63 (***) M-Score -.08 .11 -.04 -.73 -.07 Age .01 .02 .01 .20 .00 Secure .07 .08 .04 .88 .06 Nation .71 (***) .16 .21 4.36 .70 (***) F-score (*)Secure .22 (**) R-square 0.13 Model 2 S.E. Beta t Constant .50 9.24 Sex .16 .15 3.05 F-Score .13 .23 4.90 M-Score .11 -.03 -.61 Age .02 .01 .13 Secure .08 .03 .71 Nation .16 .21 4.34 F-score (*)Secure .10 .09 2.18 R-square 0.14 Note: (***) 0.01 (**) 0.05 (*) 0.1 significance levels.. F-score, M-score and Secure level are mean centered. Table 4. Mediation Model on Gender, Gender Role Orientation and Coping Strategies Direct Effect Effect SE t p LLCI ULCI The Effect of Gender on Instrumental Coping 0.55 (***) 0.16 3.49 0.00 0.24 0.85 The Effect of Gender on Emotional Coping 0.61 (***) 0.17 3.67 0.00 0.28 0.93 Indirect Effect through Total Femininity Effect Boot Boot Boot Effect SE LLCI ULCI The Effect of Gender on Instrumental Coping 0.19 (***) 0.05 0.11 0.31 0.74 (***) The Effect of Gender on Emotional Coping 0.19 (***) 0.05 0.11 0.32 0.80 (***) Note: Variables entered in the analysis include gender, femininity score, masculinity score, age and secure score. (***) .01 (**) .05 (*) .1 significance levels. Table 5. Conditional Direct and Indirect Effects of Sex on the Use of Instrumental Coping Strategies Conditional Direct Effect at values of the moderator: Secure Level Effect SE t p LLCI ULCI Mean-S.D. 4.00 0.53 0.22 2.48 0.01 0.11 0.96 Mean 4.89 0.52 0.16 3.35 0.00 0.22 0.83 Mean+S.D. 5.82 0.52 0.21 2.44 0.02 0.10 0.93 Conditional Indirect Effects Secure Level Effect Boot SE BootLLCI BootULCI Mean-S.D. 4.00 0.13 0.06 0.03 0.25 Mean 4.89 0.20 0.05 0.10 0.31 Mean+S.D. 5.82 0.28 0.07 0.15 0.42 Index of Moderated Mediation Mediator Index Boot SE BootLLCI BootULCI Femininity 0.08 0.04 0.00 0.15 Note: 1000 boostrap samples are used for bias corrected bootstrap confidence intervals. Level of confidence for all confidence intervals is 95%. Table 6. Conditional Direct and Indirect Effects of Sex on the Use of Emotional Coping Strategies Conditional Direct Effect at values of the moderator: Secure Level Effect SE t p LLCI ULCI Mean-S.D. 4.00 0.44 0.23 1.96 0.05 0.00 0.89 Mean 4.89 0.58 0.17 3.52 0.00 0.26 0.90 Mean+S.D. 5.82 0.71 0.22 3.22 0.00 0.28 1.15 Conditional Indirect Effects Secure Level Effect Boot SE BootLLCI BootULCI Mean-S.D. 4.00 0.13 0.06 0.02 0.25 Mean 4.89 0.20 0.05 0.11 0.31 Mean+S.D. 5.82 0.28 0.07 0.15 0.43 Index of Moderated Mediation Mediator Index Boot SE BootLLCI BootULCI Femininity 0.08 0.04 0.01 0.17 Note: 1000 boostrap samples are used for bias corrected bootstrap confidence intervals. Level of confidence for all confidence intervals is 95%. Table 7. Conditional Direct and Indirect Effects of Sex on the Use of Instrumental and Emotional Coping Strategies Conditional Direct Effect at values of the moderator: Instrumental Coping Emotional Coping Secure Level Effect SE Effect SE Mean-S.D. 4.24 0.66 (**) 0.29 0.77 (***) 0.29 Mean 5.09 0.58 (***) 0.22 0.67 (***) 0.22 Mean+S.D. 5.94 0.50 (*) 0.30 0.58 (*) 0.30 Conditional Indirect Effects Secure Level Effect Boot SE Effect Boot SE Mean-S.D. 4.24 0.26 (**) 0.11 0.26 (**) 0.11 Mean 5.09 0.37 (***) 0.09 0.35 (***) 0.10 Mean+S.D. 5.94 0.48 (***) 0.12 0.44 (***) 0.12 Note: (***)0.01 (**)0.05 (*)0.1 significance levels. Table 8. Conditional Direct and Indirect Effects of Sex on the Use of Instrumental and Emotional Coping Strategies (China) Conditional Direct Effect at values of the moderator: Instrumental Coping Emotional Coping Secure Level Effect SE Effect SE Mean-S.D. 3.71 0.38 0.31 0.00 0.36 Mean 4.68 0.18 0.22 0.28 0.25 Mean+S.D. 5.64 -0.03 0.31 0.55 0.35 Conditional Indirect Effects Secure Level Effect Boot SE Effect Boot SE Mean-S.D. 3.71 0.10 0.06 0.10 0.07 Mean 4.68 0.14 (**) 0.07 0.15 (**) 0.07 Mean+S.D. 5.64 0.19 (**) 0.09 0.20 (**) 0.10 Note: (***) 0.01 (**) 0.05 (*) 0.1 significance levels.
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|Author:||Feng, Hairong; Xiu, Lin; Ren, Yufei|
|Publication:||China Media Research|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2019|
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