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The role of ethnic identity and self-construal in coping among African American and Caucasian American seventh graders: an exploratory analysis of within-group variance.

The present study explored the relationship of ethnicity and ethnic identity to coping strategy use. Most coping research to date has focused on Caucasian American adults. Few studies have examined the role of race or ethnicity in coping, and even fewer have examined these factors in children and adolescents (Phinney & Chavira, 1995). In a review of the adolescent coping literature conducted by Rosella (1994), nearly half the studies cited failed even to report information on the racial composition of their samples. Among those studies that did report race or ethnicity, non-White groups were found to be underrepresented. The failure to report such data or include diverse participants may have indicated a lack of awareness on the part of many researchers regarding the role of race and ethnicity in psychological behavior and mental health or, perhaps more alarmingly, an assumption that the psychological and behavioral profiles of Caucasian Americans are universal. Recognizing the dearth of multiracial studies, the National Institutes of Health (1994) now requires the inclusion of ethnic minorities in all studies.

In addition to the dearth of research addressing ethnicity and coping, there are two primary drawbacks in previous investigations in this area. First, most multiethnic coping research has used one- or two-item self-report measures to determine ethnicity. However, ethnicity is a complex construct that cannot be assessed meaningfully using one-or two-item measures; preferable is the assessment of ethnicity along multiple, continuous dimensions (Phinney, 1996). Second, previous research typically relied on only a single situation when assessing coping strategies. As Lazarus and Folkman (1984) found, however, coping is a process that changes according to the demands of the situation. Therefore, a cross-situational approach could be more effective at capturing the nature of coping efforts directed at different aspects of a person's life. The present study examined the coping strategies of both Caucasian American and African American youth using a multiethnic, cross-situational design. Such research may suggest a l ink between individual behavior and the influences of ethnicity (Diaz-Guerrero, 1979).

Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

Definitions of race and ethnicity have been hotly contested by psychological researchers and theorists. In 1978, the Federal Office of Management and Budget specified the categorization of race and ethnicity through a directive that was meant to standardize data collection among U.S. government agencies (Jenkins & Parron, 1995). Nevertheless, such standardization has been difficult for researchers because the criteria used to define racial or ethnic group membership have varied among groups, both within the scientific and legal communities and within the general population. The term race has assumed its primary meaning within the context of Black-White relations in the U.S. and abroad, typically between European nations and their former colonial subjects (Harrison, 1995). The term ethnicity, on the other hand, has emerged primarily within the social sciences to encompass and equalize the multiplicity of peoples originating from differing national and cultural backgrounds (Harrison, 1998) Thus, ethnicity encom passes race, yet, paradoxically, underdetermines it.

Historically, the term race has referenced largely physiognomic distinctions between people, with the concomitant assumption that social or psychological differences are rooted in biological differences (Guthrie, 1998). The term ethnicity, on the other hand, which achieved ascendancy within the field of anthropology (Montagu, 1942; Harrison, 1995, 1998), has implicitly referenced culture from the outset. The recognition that lines of cultural difference often overlap closely with lines of physiognomic difference has, perhaps, been responsible for the frequent, albeit erroneous, conflation and interchange of the terms ethnicity and race.

Several psychological researchers (e.g., Foster & Martinez, 1995; Phinney, 1996) have emphasized that ethnicity, a sociocultural term, should be used, rather than race, which is a biological variable. Ethnicity comprises the important dimensions of ideology, sense of tradition, and sense of belonging, all of which consider sociocultural interactions between the individual and the environment (Foster & Martinez, 1995). Such thinking is consistent with the notion that given numerous within-group ethnic differences, it would be nearly impossible to draw accurate conclusions based solely on group membership. Race, on the other hand, has historically been used as a group-level label and therefore has promoted such generalizations.

Helms and Talleyrand (1997) make an equally powerful argument supporting the use of the term race. They contend that the term ethnicity is appropriate only for discussing cultural components, while the term race describes how an individual has been socialized based on how others perceive him or her and how he or she perceives him-or herself: The authors break race into two new categories: (1) sociorace, which is used when assessing race-related interpersonal processes; and (2) psychorace, which is used in discussing the intrapsychic effects of socialization. Both sides of the debate have merit. Each recognizes the complexity and difficulty of studying race and ethnicity accurately, whether based on cultural norms and traditions or effects of socialization and interpersonal contacts. One may even conclude that the differences between the two terms have become an argument over semantics and that they are both created though social construction.

However, for the purposes of the present study, we will use the term ethnicity to refer to individuals' socially defined membership in putatively cultural, but sometimes also physiognomically, linguistically, geographically, or ancestrally based, ethnic groups. Examples of such ethnic groups include such categories as those used by the U.S. Census: African American, Asian American, Caucasian American, Latino/a American, Native American, and Pacific Islander. Ethnicity can also refer to groups with a common national or religious background, within or outside the U.S., such as Chinese, East Indian, Cuban, or Jewish. The term culture will be used to refer to the shared meanings, whether expressed in terms of beliefs, values, or behaviors, which members of a group share; culture may also refer to the group, often but not always an ethnic group, bounded by these shared meanings. Self-construal will be used to refer to interdependent vs. independent orientations, and will be used as a measure of culture manifest in the individual. The term ethnic identity will be used to connote self-designation in and commitment to a specific ethnic group. The term race, which refers primarily to social designations based on physical characteristics alone, such as Black and White, will generally be avoided, with the recognition, poignantly elaborated by Harrison (1995, 1998), that couching discussions of group membership in terms of ethnicity rather than race can evade discussions of racism and its powerful, deleterious effects. Our eschewal of this term also reflects a deference to Helms and Talleyrand's (1997) contention that race encompasses elements of socialization within a racist society and the intrapsychic effects of that socialization--both topics beyond the scope of the current study. As a final point, we will, when citing others' research, make exceptions to our choice of terms based on the terminology used by those researchers.

Ethnic Identity and Self Construal

There have been several theories on ethnic identity (e.g., Baldwin, 1981; Cross, 1991; Phinney, 1989). Many of the scales developed to measure ethnic identity have been group-specific (e.g., Chen, 1989; Grills & Longshore, 1996; Parham & Helms, 1981). However, Phinney (1992) has developed a scale, the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM), that can assess ethnic identity across members of multiple ethnic groups. The MEIM assesses four factors that have been shown to be important components of ethnic identity (Rotheram & Phinney, 1989): Self-Identification, which refers to self-labeling; Ethnic Behaviors and Practice, which focuses on the activities and behaviors that are distinct for a particular group; Affirmation and Belonging, which assesses how much one accepts one's ethnicity; and Ethnic Identity Achievement, which measures the degree to which a person is exploring and identifying with a distinct group.

Personality variables have also been studied in relation to ethnic or cultural differences. For example, Triandis (1989) and Markus and Kityama (1991) coined the terms collectivism/individualism and independent-self/interdependent-self, respectively. These societal characteristics are associated with how a person copes (Zerbe Enns, 1994). An individualistic/independent person, typical of Western European and North American cultures, is concerned with the promotion of individual goals and self-reliance. In a collectivist or interdependent society, typical of many Asian, African, and Latin American cultures, people are concerned with how they relate to society; personal goals are surrendered in favor of group goals (e.g., Markus & Kityama, 1991; Triandis, 1989).

People can vary within cultures, however. Singelis (1994) addressed this issue with his self-construal theory, postulating that a person may possess components of both an individualist and collectivist personality, such as an African American individual holding both collectivist beliefs of his or her ancestry and individualist beliefs associated with Caucasian Americans.

The literatures on ethnic identity and self-construal tie together some interesting concepts. For example, these literatures reinforce the idea that ethnicity cannot be considered a discrete variable. Many aspects of ethnic identity, such as ethnic self-identification and ethnic behaviors and practices, contribute to an overall feeling of pride and belonging with regard to one's culture. At the same time, ethnic identity itself develops, making it an individual-difference variable. Members of the same ethnic group enter various stages of ethnic identity development at different times and under different historical conditions (Cross, Parham, & Helms, 1991). Looking at personality traits, one can further see that within-group differences are often as distinct as between-group differences. Members of a particular group may vary dramatically in the degree to which their individual characteristics reflect group-level patterns (Grills & Longshore, 1996). Therefore, in order to understand the importance of cultural factors in coping behavior, both between- and within-ethnic-group differences should be taken into account.

Coping Research Using a Multicultural Paradigm

A number of investigations have found coping differences between people from different countries such as Mexico and the United States (Diaz-Guerrero, 1979), Egypt and the United States (Ali, Khalil, & Yousef, 1993), and Canada and China (Chataway & Berry, 1989). However, studying coping differences between ethnic groups who coexist within the same national context might yield a different perspective on the role of ethnic identity and self-construal in coping. For instance, it has been found that the more acculturated a person becomes, the more varied his or her experience of stress and use of coping strategies will be (Cameron & Lalonde, 1994; Mena, Padilla, & Maldonado, 1987). Lee and Newton (1981) concluded that, even with apparent social acculturation, a minority group (i.e., native Hawaiians) was able to retain, to some extent, a culturally distinct value system. The coping strategies that were employed by the minority group, they discovered, were closely related to their overall cultural values. Therefor e, minority subgroups may cope with stress quite differently from members of the dominant culture.

Frydenberg and Lewis (1993) studied the coping strategies used to reduce stress among Anglo Australians, Euro Australians, and Southeast Asian Australians. The Euro and Anglo Australians both used the strategy of "letting off steam" significantly more than did the Southeast Asian group. However, Asian Australians coped by organizing social action, working hard, and by seeking professional help significantly more than did Euro and Anglo Australians. In a similar vein, Copeland and Hess (1995) found that Hispanic Americans made more frequent use of social activities and spiritual support-seeking when faced with life stressors than did Caucasian Americans, who used more humor. African Americans have been found to appraise stressful situations as changeable more often than do Caucasian Americans (Halstead, Johnson, & Cunningham, 1993) and also to use prayer as a coping strategy more often than do their Caucasian American counterparts (Barbarin, 1983). Additionally, Jung (1995) found that Caucasian Americans used less avoidance coping, which is generally considered to be a poor strategy, than did Asian Americans. However, avoidance may have a more positive outcome for collectivist Asian Americans. Caucasian Americans, for instance, might use avoidance to prevent failure, whereas Asian Americans might use it to prevent the loss of their dignity or that of others (i.e., save face).

The described studies present substantial evidence that different coping patterns can exist among different ethnic groups. The present study, however, attempts to improve upon prior investigations in three ways. First, a continuous ethnic identity measure was employed in conjunction with a traditional, categorical measure of ethnicity. This approach allows for an examination of the variability of coping within as well as between ethnic groups (Phinney & Chavira, 1995). Second, in this investigation, the types of stressors are consistent across all participants, regardless of ethnic group membership, thus reducing the likelihood of confounding differences in coping style with differences related to different stressors. Third, this study uses multiple types of stressors. In much of the previous research (e.g., Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993; El-Shiekh & Klaczynski, 1993), participants were asked to describe a single stressful event and base all of their responses on that event. Since coping is likely to vary dependin g on the demands of the situation (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), we presented participants with three different scenarios of common stressful situations (a medical procedure, an academic test, and social criticism). It was hoped that our approach would provide a broader understanding of the role of ethnic variables in coping across situations. Further, our study targeted adolescents. The bulk of prior studies in this area have focused on adults and neglected the relation between coping and ethnicity in adolescents (Phinney & Chavira, 1995).

We hypothesized that African American adolescents and Caucasian American adolescents would not differ with regard to coping strategies across situations using discrete (i.e., categorical) ethnic designations. We predicted that African American adolescents would hold greater collectivist beliefs than would Caucasian American youth, while Caucasian American adolescents were expected to demonstrate a more individualistic persona than would African American youth. With regard to within-ethnic-group differences, we predicted that the level of ethnic identity would coincide with an individual's self-construal, with interdependent ideology being associated with a stronger African American identity, and independent ideology being associated with a stronger Caucasian American identity. In turn, we predicted that a stronger African American identity would be related to more communal coping strategies (e.g., social support), while a stronger Caucasian American identity would be related to more independent strategies (e. g., social withdrawal).


Participants and Study Site

One hundred twelve seventh graders from three suburban middle schools participated in this study. The sample consisted of 67 African Americans (23 male, 43 female, 1 no response; mean age = 12.55, SD = .68) and 45 Caucasian Americans (17 male, 26 female, 2 no response; mean age = 12.39, SD = .54). The ethnic categorization was accomplished by using the MEIM, which asks the open-ended question, "What is your ethnicity?" Those who responded Black, African American, or another term that describes an American of African heritage were placed in the African American group. Those who designated themselves as White, Caucasian American, or another term that designates an American of European heritage were placed in the Caucasian American group. All other respondents (n = 54) were not used in the analysis due of the wide variety of ethnicities that were designated (e.g., Hispanic, Mexican, Asian, Asian American) relative to the number of participants. The three participants who did not indicate gender were not included in any analyses that included gender, but they were included in all other analyses. The ethnic and gender breakdown at the three middle schools ranged from a relatively even distribution to being skewed toward either African Americans or Caucasian Americans (see Table 1).


The questionnaire packet contained a demographic questionnaire, the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure, the Self-Construal Questionnaire, three written vignettes of stressful stimuli, and three Kidcope coping instruments. The demographic questionnaire asked respondents to supply information about gender, age, parent education, and parent occupation.

Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure. The MEIM (Phinney, 1992) is a 23-item questionnaire, including three subscales (Affirmation and Belonging; Ethnic Identity Achievement; Ethnic Behaviors) that comprise Total Ethnic Identity (scores range from 14 to 56), and a separate factor called Other-Group Orientation (scores range from 6 to 24). Questions concerning parent ethnicity and self-identification are not scored, but can be used for ethnic categorization. Other-Group Orientation questions, though not a factor in ethnic identity, are asked to determine the connection that may exist between one's relationship with other groups and one's own ethnic identity. Since ethnic identity was the only factor relevant to the present study, Other-Group Orientation questions were not scored. The overall internal consistency measure of reliability in the original study for the scale, based on a diverse sample of Hispanics, Asians, Caucasian Americans, and African Americans, was .81 for an adolescent population (14-18 years ol d). The reliabilities for the subscales were as follows: .75 for Affirmation and Belonging (scores range from 5 to 20); .69 for Ethnic Identity Achievement (scores range from 7 to 35); and .71 for Other-Group Orientation. Reliability for the Ethnic Behaviors subscale was not computed because reliability could not be calculated for a two-item scale. However, separate analyses demonstrated that the Ethnic Behavior items did increase the overall reliability of the scale.

Since the sample for the present study was comprised of young adolescents (11-14 years old), reliability tests were conducted. The following alphas were obtained: .73 for the overall scale, .63 for Affirmation and Belonging, and .60 for Ethnic Identity Achievement. Although the alphas were slightly lower than in Phinney's (1989) original study, we believe that the scale is still reliable for the present sample.

Self Construal Questionnaire. The Self-Construal Questionnaire (Singelis, 1994) is a 24-item scale that assesses the strength of a person's independent and interdependent self-construals. Each item is scored on a seven-point Likert scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Singelis (1994) theorized that a person can have both independent and interdependent ideologies simultaneously. Therefore, the questionnaire is comprised of two separate scales, one measuring an independent and the other measuring an interdependent self-construal (with scores for each scale ranging from 12 to 84). Independent self-construal deals with the self, and realizing and promoting one's own personal goals. Interdependent self-construal deals with concern for relationships and one's place within society. The reliability coefficients in the original study for the Independent and Interdependent scales were .70 and .74, respectively. However, for the present study, the wording of both subscales was revised so that the que stions would be appropriate for seventh graders (e.g., "I would offer my seat in a bus to my professor" was changed to read "I would offer my seat in a bus to my teacher"). Reliability tests were therefore conducted, yielding similar alphas to the original study (.69 and .81 for the Independent and Interdependent scales, respectively). Construct validity was demonstrated in the original study by comparing an Asian American to a Caucasian American sample; the Asian American group was more interdependent and the Caucasian American group was more independent.

Vignettes of stressful stimuli. The stressful stimuli were three brief, written vignettes describing anxiety-promoting events: a medical stressor depicting a situation in which the participant is being called back to see a doctor after a routine examination; a test stressor depicting a situation in which the participant is preparing for a major final exam; and a social criticism stressor depicting a situation in which the participant must speak in front of his or her class, describing his or her own faults.

Kidcope. The Kidcope (Spirito, Stark, & Williams, 1988), completed after each stressful stimuli, is a widely recognized scale in the area of pediatric and clinical child psychology. The Kidcope is a 10-item coping checklist that assesses the frequency and efficacy of using various strategies: distraction, social withdrawal, cognitive restructuring, self-criticism, blaming others, problem solving, positive emotional regulation (e.g., calming self), negative emotional regulation (e.g., yelling, screaming, hitting), wishful thinking, social support, and resignation. It was devised as a short-form alternative to other, longer coping questionnaires. Each item is assessed separately, with scores for each question ranging from 0 to 3. Test-retest reliability from the original study was good for short periods (3 to 7 days), ranging from .41-.83, but much lower when measured up to ten weeks apart, ranging from .15-.43. Lazarus and Folkman's (1984) process theory explains this discrepancy, postulating that coping strat egies should change over time. The Kidcope was validated by comparison with previously standardized measures such as the Coping Strategies Inventory and the Adolescent Coping Orientation for Problem Experiences Inventory. For a more detailed discussion of the factor analysis that resulted in the 10 items, please refer to the original research examining the reliability and validity of the scale (Spirito, Stark, & Wiliams, 1988).


The researchers gained permission from the school district and the principals of each school to conduct the study. On separate occasions, a researcher and assistants spoke to the students at each school, describing the study and explaining that they would have to return a consent/assent form signed by their parents and themselves. Bumper stickers from a prominent university in the area were used as an incentive at one school, while doughnuts were used as an incentive at the other two. Students were informed that they would receive the gift as long as they returned the consent form, even if their parents refused consent.

On the day of the test administration, the students who had returned a signed consent/assent form indicating consent to participate were given the questionnaire packet described above. After completing the demograhic information, MEIM, and Self-Construal Questionnaire, the children then read the three vignettes describing stressful situations. The children completed a separate Kidcope following each vignette to indicate how they would cope with those situations. A researcher or assistant was present throughout the session to answer any questions.



There were no significant differences between the two ethnic groups based on age. A few gender differences, described below, emerged for the Caucasian American group only. Socioeconomic status could not be computed based on the information supplied by the students due to refusal or inability to answer questions about parent education and employment.

Both between- and within-group analyses were conducted first using bivariate correlations to determine which demographic and independent variables should be included in follow-up multiple regression analyses. All [R.sup.2] coefficients reported are adjusted-[R.sup.2] coefficients. Dichotomous independent variables were analyzed using MANOVAs and t tests. It should be noted that the independence and interdependence constructs of the Self-Construal Questionnaire are reverse scored on all items (i.e., high score equals low interdependence). However, for ease of presentation, the signs reported here were changed to reflect a typically scored scale (i.e., high score equals high independence).

Between-Group Analyses

The results of a MANOVA comparing scores on the Kidcope for the African American and Caucasian American samples showed no significant main effects for frequency of coping strategy used for either the medical, F(11, 88) = 1.61, p > .10, test, F(11, 81) = 1.57, p > .10, or social criticism stressors, F(11, 79) = 1.38, p > .10 (see Table 2). Results of t tests indicated that the African American adolescents achieved a higher Total Ethnic Identity score than the Caucasian American adolescents, t(107) = -3.21, p = .002 (see Table 2). However, there were no significant differences between ethnic groups for either Independent or Interdependent scores on the Self-Construal Questionnaire. For gender, independent of ethnicity, MANOVAs were conducted to detect differences between the boys and girls for their coping strategies across situations. No main effects were found for the frequency of coping strategies used for the medical, F(11, 85) = 1.13, p > .10, test, F(11, 78) = l.25,p > .10, or social criticism stressors, F(11, 76) = .38, p > .10. Using t tests, no significant differences were found based on gender for either type of self-construal or for ethnic identity. In analyses not reported in this paper, neither an interaction of ethnic identity and self-construal nor an interaction of ethnicity and self-construal revealed any significant differences .

Within-Group Analyses

African American students. For the African American sample, a significant positive relationship was found between independence and interdependence (r = .38, p <.01). No relationship was found between the Total Ethnic Identity score and interdependence. However, there was a significant positive relationship between the Total Ethnic Identity score and independence (r = .31, p < .01). Also, a number of significant relationships were found between coping strategies and the variables of Total Ethnic Identity score, independence, and interdependence (see Table 3). A higher Total Ethnic Identity score was associated with greater use of cognitive restructuring for the medical and test stressors. The Total Ethnic Identity score of African American students was also related to greater use of negative emotional regulation (e.g., yelling, hitting, screaming) and to less use of social withdrawal for the medical stressor. Independence was negatively related to self-criticism and blaming others for the test stressor. Indepe ndence was also negatively related to social withdrawal for the medical stressor and to distraction and self-criticism for the social criticism stressor. Independence was positively related to cognitive restructuring for the test stressor. Interdependence was negatively related to using social withdrawal for the medical stressor, and self-criticism for the test stressor.

Total Ethnic Identity score, independence, and interdependence were entered into a multiple regression to predict the use of social withdrawal during the medical stressor. The model was predictive, F(3, 60) = 3.90, p < .01, [R.sup.2] = .12. None of the individual predictors were significant, but both Total Ethnic Identity and interdependence approached significance, with independence adding little unique variance ([beta] = -.24, p = .06; [beta] = -.25. p = .06; [beta] = -.11, p = .42, respectively). Independence and interdependence were entered simultaneously into a multiple regression analysis to predict the use of self-criticism during the test stress situation. They were found to be predictive, F(2, 55) = 5.57, p < .01, [R.sup.2] = .14, but independence was and interdependence was not a significant predictor in the regression ([beta] = -.33, p = .01; [beta] = .16, p = .23, respectively). A final multiple regression was run to predict the use of cognitive restructuring, with Total Ethnic Identity and indepe ndence entered simultaneously. The resulting model was significant, F(2, 55) = 6.60, p < .02, [R.sup.2] = .16. Both Total Ethnic Identity and independence contributed significant amounts of unique variance to the model ([beta] = .27, p = .04; [beta] = .27, p = .04, respectively).

MANOVAs were conducted to detect differences between the boys and girls on coping strategies. No significant main effects were found for the medical, F(11, 46) = .55,p> .10, test, F(11, 44) = .56, p > .10, or social criticism stressors, F(11, 42) = .96, p > .10. There were no significant differences based on gender for either type of self-construal or total MEIM.

Caucasian American students. For the Caucasian American sample, independence and interdependence were positively correlated (r = .55, p < .01). Total Ethnic Identity score was not related to either independence or interdependence. However, Total Ethnic Identity was negatively related to using self-criticism and blaming others for the test stressor (see Table 3). Independence was positively correlated with the use of social support for both the medical and test stressors. Independence was negatively related to blaming others and resignation during the test stressor, and negative emotional regulation (e.g., yelled, screamed, or hit something) and distraction during the social criticism stressor. Interdependence was not related to any coping strategies across the three situations.

A multiple regression was run in which Total Ethnic Identity and independence were entered simultaneously to predict blaming others during the test stressor. The model was significant, F(2, 31) = 4.33, p = .02, [R.sup.2] = .17. Independence was the only significant contributor to the model ([beta] = - .36, p = .05) while Total Ethnic Identity contributed little unique variance ([beta] = -.19, p = .28).

MANOVAs were conducted to test for gender differences on coping strategies across situations. There were no main effects for the test, F(11, 28) = l.33,p> .10, or social criticism stressors, F(11, 19) = 1.28, p > .10. However, a significant main effect was found for the medical stressor, F(11, 21) = 2.65,p < .05. Post hoc independent-sample t tests demonstrated that Caucasian American males (M = 2.17, SD = .72) used more resignation than did Caucasian American females (M = 1.35, SD= .93), t(33) = 2.65, p <.05, and that Caucasian American females (M = 2.17, SD = .93) used positive emotional regulation (e.g., calming self) more than did Caucasian American males (M = 1.25, SD = 1.05), t(33) = 2.65, p < .05. There were no significant differences based on gender for either type of self-construal or for ethnic identity.


The purpose of this study was to explore the contribution of ethnicity, ethnic identity, and self-construal in determining the coping strategies used by Caucasian American and African American adolescents across various situations. The results suggest that when ethnicity is considered only as a discrete variable, it is a poor differentiator of the frequency of using various coping strategies across any situation. In fact, ethnicity as a discrete variable was unrelated to the reported use of any of the coping strategies across these situations. This contradicts previous research that has shown more robust coping differences between African Americans and Caucasian Americans (e.g., Au, Khalil & Youself, 1993; Munsch & Wampler, 1993). Several within-group differences were found, possibly showing that group members differ more among themselves than among other groups. More interestingly, higher levels of ethnic identity and self-construal were associated with the use of more positive coping strategies.

The African American students did score significantly higher on Total Ethnic Identity than did the Caucasian American students, however, which is consistent with previous research demonstrating greater ethnic belonging and ethnic identity achievement among ethnic minority groups as compared to Caucasian Americans (Phinney, 1992). However, the lack of significant differences between the ethnic groups on measures of self-construal would appear to contradict the notion that African Americans identify more with an Eastern or African interdependent ideology, and Caucasian Americans with a Western or European independent ideology. It is possible that degree of acculturation or the youthful age of the sample contributed to this nonsignificance. Further, it is possible that greater ethnic differences would have been found when comparing the coping strategies and self-construals of Caucasian Americans to African Americans who were more culturally dissimilar. The unique nature of the MEIM might have contributed to this finding by not lending itself to such inquiries. The MEIM contains many questions that emphasize the process of identity development rather than the content of identity at any given point. Because such content may be responsible for some of the putative cultural differences in coping style and efficacy, it would be important to include content-based (i.e., ethnicity-specific) measures of ethnic identity in future studies. For example, greater differences might be seen between Caucasian American students and African American students who were at various phases of Cross's Model of Nigrescence (Cross, 1991). African Americans in the Pre-Encounter phase might be accepting of the majority culture's norms while rejecting their own group, whereas African Americans in the Immersion/Emmersion phase might immerse themselves within their own culture while rejecting many aspects of the majority culture. Adoption of the norms of the minority culture and subsequent rejection of the norms of the majority culture could resu lt in different coping strategies based on differing ideologies.

In accordance with recent literature (e.g., Phinney, 1996; Singelis, 1994), we found more significant differences in our within-group analyses than in our between-group analyses. For African Americans, we found a positive realtionship between ethnic identity and desirable coping behaviors, whereas higher ethnic identity in the Caucasian American sample was related to less use of negative coping strategies. However, social withdrawal was positively related to Total Ethnic Identity scores for the African American students. This is an odd finding considering that those with a higher African orientation would be predicted to be more communal in nature (Singelis, 1994) and therefore less likely to withdraw from others. There are at least three possible reasons for these findings. For one, there may be some situations where greater ethnic identity is not adaptive. Alternatively, it may be that moderate use of social withdrawal functions in an adaptive manner for African American youth who have a higher ethnic ident ity. A third possibility is that social withdrawal buffers the individual from various negative social consequences in tightly knit social settings, such as may be characteristic of communalistic cultures.

The multiple regressions further suggest that there is an association between self-construal, ethnic identity, and coping strategies. Total Ethnic Identity score and interdependence each contributed near-significant unique variance to the model of using less social withdrawal during the medical stressor. This finding demonstrates the possibly positive effects of having higher ethnic identity and a more communal ideology for African American students. The lack of unique variance from independence is attributable to the significant correlation between the two self-construals and the possibility that Singelis's (1994) scale is really only tapping one self-construal, not two as he proposed. Two additional findings point to more adaptive coping behaviors being associated with greater ethnic identity and a highly individualistic ideology: greater independence being associated with less use of self-criticism for the test stressor; and both independence and Total Ethnic Identity predicting more cognitive restructurin g for the test stressor. This may seem inconsistent with the notion that greater ethnic identity is positive and that higher ethnic identity among African Americans normally would result in an interdependent ideology. Future research should revisit this finding. For the Caucasian American sample, independence was shown to contribute a great amount of unique variance to the model of blaming others less during the test stressor. Though not significant, ethnic identity was related in the same direction (i.e., negatively). Therefore, it seems that higher ethnic identity and independent self-construal predict less use of a negative coping strategy. This finding may be expected given the theorized positive relationship between a Caucasian American identity and independent ideology. Follow-up studies should examine the causal effect these variables have for both Caucasian and African American students, instead of just their predictive qualities.

Overall, one might conclude that ethnic identity, as measured by the MEIM, could be considered an aspect of overall psychological adjustment. This conclusion is partially corroborated by Phinney and Alipuria (1990) who found that self-esteem was greater in those with higher levels of Ethnic Identity Achievement, a major component of the MEIM.

Independence and interdependence, the two self-construals, were also found to be inversely related to the use of a variety of undesirable coping strategies for both African American and Caucasian American students. In addition, for Caucasian Americans, independence was positively related to the use of the positive coping strategy of social support. Therefore, these results are generally consistent with those found for the ethnic identity measure, supporting the notion that independent and interdependent ideologies may act as indicators of good adjustment skills.

It should be noted that the relatively small correlation coefficients between the Total Ethnic Identity score and self-construal measures and the use of particular coping strategies might be expected considering the numerous other factors that have been found to determine coping strategies. Preexisting coping styles and strategies (Blount, Davis, Powers, & Roberts, 1991), parental socialization and modeling (Hoffman & LevyShiff, 1994), modeling of peer coping strategies (Bernzweig, Eisenberg, & Fabes, 1993), and previous experiences with stressful situations (Aldwin, Sutton, & Lachman, 1996) are only a few of the factors that have been demonstrated to affect the development of coping strategies. Therefore, ethnic identity and self-construal should be expected to contribute only a limited, although potentially important and unique, amount of variance to the use of coping strategies.

Limitations of this investigation should be noted. It is possible that since the stressors in this study were written vignettes, students may have had trouble truly imagining that they were in each situation, especially if they had never had a similar experience. However, all probably would have experienced a medical test, taken a subjectively important exam in school, and talked in front of a group. Similarly, some young people may not be able to determine or report with accuracy what types of strategies they use (Stone, Greenberg, Kennedy-Moore, & Newman, 1991). In addition, both the students' lack of knowledge about their parents' income and education and the teachers' indication that many of the parents would be unable to complete questionnaires which might have been sent horns resulted in an inability to obtain a socioeconomic status (SES) measure. Considering that environment has been shown to play a major role in the attainment of coping styles (e.g., Hardy, Power, & Jaedicke, 1993), future research sh ould examine such factors as SES. Finally, because of the number of statistical analyses used in this examination, some of the associations may be due to Type I error. However, this investigation used a new paradigm to assess coping strategies and was exploratory by nature. Therefore, the significance level was not corrected. Despite this, some care should be taken when interpreting the results. In the same regard, a stepwise analysis was used for the multiple regressions in which those variables with significant correlations at the bivariate level were entered simultaneously into the model. Again, care should be taken in interpreting these results until this study has been replicated with a priori hypotheses.

The findings of this study have many potential implications for future research methodology and for the development of intervention strategies with adolescents. In terms of methodology, this study has shown that ethnicity as a discrete variable may not be useful for describing ethnic differences in coping. Instead, the interactive effects of the various aspects of ethnic identity, gender, and self-construal on coping in unique situations must be studied in combination with ethnicity to determine the source of variance in coping strategy usage. An additional implication of this investigation is that the MEIM and Self-Construal Questionnaire might be considered indices of adjustment in future explorations. More research regarding these findings is warranted.

The results suggest that greater within- than between-group coping differences exist, which is consistent with a growing trend in psychological research (Phinney, 1990). This finding is important in relation to clinical intervention strategies and future research directives toward stress management. Past researchers have emphasized the desirability of constructing stress intervention programs that fit the needs of individual coping patterns and not large groups (e.g., Efron, Chorney, Ascher, & Ascher, 1989) and this study demonstrates that broad generalizations cannot necessarily be made either across or within ethnic groups. The contributions of ethnic identity and self-construals should give intervention researchers additional information for developing strategies to assist young people in stressful situations.
Table 1

Ethnic and Gender Groups Among Seventh Graders at Three Middle Schools

 Scool 1 Scool 2
 n % n %

African Americans 116 38.0 263 74.1
Caucasian Americans 159 52.1 57 16.1
Hispanic Americans 17 5.6 27 7.6
Asian Americans 4 1.3 4 1.1
Multiethnic 9 3.0 4 1.1
Males 160 52.5 192 54.1
Females 145 47.5 163 45.9

 School 3
 n %

African Americans 157 44.2
Caucasian Americans 120 33.8
Hispanic Americans 65 18.2
Asian Americans 10 2.8
Multiethnic 3 1.0
Males 201 56.6
Females 154 43.4

Table 2

Means and Standard Deviations for Total Ethnic Identity,
Self-Construals, and Kidcope Coping Strategies Across Three Situations
for African American and Caucasian American Seventh Graders

 African Caucasian
 Americans Americans
Scales M SD M SD

Total Ethnic Identity * 44.10 6.40 40.36 5.10
Interdependent 41.66 11.78 44.08 10.45
Independent 34.52 13.12 37.24 14.25

Kidcope (MS)
 Dist 1.60 0.95 1.43 0.87
 SW 1.53 1.11 1.27 1.04
 CR 1.86 0.92 1.59 0.92
 SC 1.03 0.97 1.11 0.92
 BO 1.16 1.02 1.26 1.04
 PS 1.75 0.88 1.80 1.00
 PE 1.46 1.17 2.00 1.11
 NE 1.90 0.96 1.93 1.03
 WT 1.75 0.91 1.86 0.98
 SS 1.48 1.08 1.64 1.08
 Res 1.58 1.09 1.71 0.97

Kidcope (TS)
 Dist 1.31 1.09 1.07 1.10
 SW 1.60 1.06 1.20 0.98
 CR 1.93 0.99 1.63 0.97
 SC 1.13 1.09 1.12 0.93
 BO 1.02 1.13 0.88 0.95
 PS 1.95 1.09 1.73 0.90
 PE 1.08 1.02 1.27 1.15
 NE 1.85 1.05 1.80 1.01
 WT 1.66 1.08 1.56 1.10
 SS 1.66 1.04 1.54 1.05
 Res 1.70 1.10 1.88 1.03

Kidcope (SC)
 Dist 1.29 1.08 1.47 1.13
 SW 1.48 1.05 1.18 1.18
 CR 1.75 1.01 1.76 1.12
 SC 1.07 1.17 0.74 0.95
 BO 1.37 1.20 1.00 1.04
 PS 1.59 1.08 1.66 1.07
 PE 1.23 1.15 1.55 1.16
 NE 1.71 1.17 1.97 1.04
 WT 1.53 1.17 1.76 1.02
 SS 1.50 1.06 1.71 0.87
 Res 1.88 1.09 1.61 1.10

Note. MS = Medical Stressor; TS = Test Stresser; SC = Social Criticism
Stressor; Dist = Distraction; SW = Social Withdrawal; CR = Cognitive
Restructuring; SC = Self- Criticism; BO = Blaming Others; PS = Problem
Solving; PE = Positive Emotional Regulation; NE = Negative Emotional
Regulation; WT = Wishful Thinking; SS = Social Support; Res =

* p < .05

Table 3

Correlations Between Predictors and Coping Strategies for African
American and Caucasian American Seventh Graders

Coping Total Ethnic
Strategies Identity Independence

African Americans

Distraction (SC) .13 -.30 *
Social Withdrawal (MS) -.28 * -.26 *
Cognitive Restructuring (MS) .26 .11
Cognitive Restructuring (TS) .37 * .36 *
Self-Criticism (TS) -.02 .34 *
Self-Criticism (SC) -.09 -.35 *
Blaming Others (TS) -.02 -.32 *
Negative Emotional
Regulation (MS) .24 * .11

Caucasian Americans

Distraction (SC) -.29 -.34 *
Self-Criticism (TS) -.32 * -.27
Blaming Others (TS) -.32 * -.39 *
Negative Emotional
Regulation (SC) .14 -.34 *
Social Support (MS) .07 .35 *
Social Support (TS) .11 .34 *
Resignation (TS) -.23 -.37 *

Strategies Interdependence

African Americans

Distraction (SC) .06
Social Withdrawal (MS) -.27 *
Cognitive Restructuring (MS) -.04
Cognitive Restructuring (TS) -.05
Self-Criticism (TS) -.27 *
Self-Criticism (SC) .11
Blaming Others (TS) -.05
Negative Emotional
Regulation (MS) .09

Caucasian Americans

Distraction (SC) .12
Self-Criticism (TS) -.14
Blaming Others (TS) -.18
Negative Emotional
Regulation (SC) -.10
Social Support (MS) .02
Social Support (TS) -.05
Resignation (TS) -.16

Note. MS = Medical Stressor; TS = Test Stressor; SC = Social Criticism

* p < .05


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Ronald L. Blount, Department of Psychology, University of Georgia.

Layli Phillips, Department of Women's Studies, Georgia State University.

Lindsey Cohen, Department of Psychology, West Virginia University.

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