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Personality and Individual Differences 76 (2015) 44–48

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Personality and Individual Differences


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/paid

Personality traits as predictors of trauma-related coping self-efficacy:


A three-wave prospective study
Mark W.G. Bosmans ⇑, Leontien M. van der Knaap, Peter G. van der Velden
INTERVICT, Tilburg University, The Netherlands

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Aim of the present three-wave study was to examine to what extent personality traits and general self-
Received 14 July 2014 efficacy measured before exposure to a potentially traumatic event (PTE) prospectively predict coping
Received in revised form 21 November 2014 self-efficacy (CSE) perceptions, and to test whether outcomes are biased by the timing of assessment
Accepted 25 November 2014
of personality traits. The study was conducted within a large probability-based multi-wave representa-
Available online 15 December 2014
tive internet panel in the Netherlands (Ntotal = 1154).
Results: Findings for both personality assessments (2009, 2011) were similar. Among respondents with
Keywords:
low levels of PTSD-symptomatology, higher levels of emotional stability and agreeableness were associ-
Coping self-efficacy
Personality traits
ated with higher levels of CSE, while among those with relatively high levels of PTSD-symptomatology
PTSD emotional stability alone was independently predictive of CSE. After adding personality traits to the
Trauma model, general self-efficacy, demographic and event-related variables were not predictive of CSE, with
the exception of time since the event for the high-symptoms group.
Conclusions: Emotional stability most strongly and systematically predicts CSE following PTE’s,
regardless of the moment it was assessed. Agreeableness is only predictive of CSE among those with
low levels of PTSD-symptomatology. Timing of assessment of personality did not influence results. In
sum the personality traits emotional stability and agreeableness provide (limited) information on CSE
levels among adults following PTE’s.
Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction There is a gap in scientific knowledge concerning CSE however.


It is not yet possible to predict which individuals will exhibit high
Previous studies have shown that coping self-efficacy (CSE), the or low levels of CSE after experiencing a PTE. Insight into the pre-
perceived capability to manage both personal functioning and dictors of CSE will offer more information on the processes at work
challenges faced in the aftermath of a traumatic event, is an impor- within CSE. It might also help with screening personnel for military
tant predictor of longer term psychological functioning after a duty or other professions with high exposure to PTEs. Experiencing
shocking event. When correcting for initial distress and demo- stress is a normal reaction in the first days and weeks after a PTE. In
graphic factors in longitudinal studies, CSE independently most cases the majority of people will recover within the first year
explained 10 to 26 percent of variance in PTSD symptoms among after a traumatic event (Breslau, 2001; Bronner et al., 2009;
victims of diverse potentially traumatic events (PTEs): natural Darves-Bornoz et al., 2008). There are very different trajectories
disasters, terrorist attacks, motor vehicle accidents, combat and in which PTSD symptoms can fluctuate, confirming that initial
domestic violence (Benight, Cieslak, Molton, & Johnson, 2008; reactions are not completely predictive of the long term coping
Benight, Freyaldenhoven, Hughes, Ruiz, & Zoschke, 2000; Benight (Bonanno, 2004). This suggests that in the specific case of trau-
& Harper, 2002; Luszczynska, Benight, & Cieslak, 2009). CSE affects matic events, CSE is influenced by different (predisposing) factors.
the stressfulness of traumatic events by affecting the degree of per- The goal of the current study is to investigate possible determi-
ceived threat posed by the event, by affecting the use of coping nants of CSE. Specifically, the focus is on the role that personality
strategies, and by affecting the perception of initial stress reactions traits might have. These are commonly assumed to be comprised
(Bandura, 1997). of more or less stable characteristics that foster consistency in
reactions to environmental stimuli (Schneider, 2004). Previous
⇑ Corresponding author at: INTERVICT, Tilburg University, Tilburg, PO box 90153,
research has shown that some personality traits (emotional stabil-
5000 LE, The Netherlands. ity and extraversion) are associated with greater posttraumatic
E-mail address: m.w.g.bosmans@tilburguniversity.edu (M.W.G. Bosmans). stress symptomatology (Breslau, Davis, Andreski, & Peterson,

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.11.052
0191-8869/Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
M.W.G. Bosmans et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 76 (2015) 44–48 45

1991; Carlier, Lamberts, & Gersons, 1997; Lewin, Carr, & Webster, members are invited to complete online questionnaires every
1998). Since personality traits contribute to how an individual will month. Original response rate was 80%, and monthly response rates
respond to or feel in specific circumstances, they will also likely to individual questionnaires range between 50% and 80%. Partici-
affect confidence to overcome a PTE. It is expected that higher lev- pants receive a small payment for each completed questionnaire.
els of emotional stability and higher levels of extraversion will be Topics of the studies conducted in the panel are diverse; with some
associated with higher levels of CSE. There are no preconceived studies recurring every year (e.g. health, religion, work and school-
notions about the effects of conscientiousness, agreeableness and ing, personality, and politics and values), while other studies, such
openness in this study. as our study on CSE, are conducted once. Data gathered in the panel
Previous studies, however, suggest that personality traits are is freely accessible for researchers (for more information see:
not completely stable (Watson, 2004). A meta-analysis investigat- www.lissdata.nl). For the current study on CSE and PTSD-symptom-
ing the rank-order stability of personality traits (Roberts & atology 7,495 panel members were approached. The response rate
DelVecchio, 2000) showed that the stability of personality traits was 78.4% (N = 5879). Of these, 2348 respondents indicated they
varies across the life span and is highest between 50 and 70 years had experienced a PTE or other stressful life-event in the past two
old, when test–retest correlations are about .74. This does raise the years in our study on trauma in 2012. Further details of the LISS
question to what extent personality traits can truly be considered panel and the studies on personality and trauma can be found in
traits, since a correlation of .7 means a shared variance of only 50%. Van der Velden, Bosmans, and Scherpenzeel (2013).
It also suggests that the timing of the measurement of personality For the present study respondents were selected who were
traits might have an impact on their predictive value. exposed to a number of PTE’s (e.g., severe accidents, assaults and
Finally, in order to investigate whether a general sense of self- threats, fires and disasters, severe illness, property crimes, loss of
efficacy influences CSE, prospectively measured general opinion a loved one), and also took part in studies on personality traits in
about one’s own capabilities was included. It is important to realize 2009 (response rate = 69.9%) and 2011 (response rate = 74.5%;
however, that there is no general perception of being able to enact Ntotal = 1154). Respondents exposed to other possible stressful life
any type of task required, which predicts how self-efficacious peo- events such as divorce, serious relational or financial problems
ple will feel in all possible situations. According to Bandura (1982), were excluded. In sum, data of three waves of the LISS panel were
the level of specificity with which to measure self-efficacy depends used (2009, 2011, and 2012).
on the nature of the related tasks, and how specific the behaviors
are that comprise this task. For instance, an artist may feel capable 2.2. Measures
of producing a beautiful artwork, but this says nothing about his or
her perceived ability to run a marathon. This is especially true for Respondents were asked to report PTE’s experienced in the two
predicting how well someone will be able to cope with an event years prior to our study on trauma (2012). If more than one PTE
that is typically far removed from everyday experience, such as a was reported, respondents were asked to focus on the most severe
traumatic event. However, a sense of being a capable person could event. The time frame of assessment was limited to the previous
affect perceived competence in specific task domains. Previous two years because for most victims of a PTE recovery occurs in
research has shown that general self-efficacy and context-specific the first 12 months (Breslau, 2001). Furthermore, recollection of
self-efficacy are related, with general self-efficacy perceptions the exact timing and nature of a traumatic event becomes less reli-
influencing specific self-efficacy perceptions (Schwoerer, May, able as the interval between exposure and assessment increases
Hollensbe, & Mencl, 2005), and vice versa (Hendy, Lyons, & (Wittchen et al., 1989). In addition to the type of event and when
Breakwell, 2006). Furthermore, in previous research, general self- it occurred, degree of physical injury sustained during the event
efficacy mediated the impact of personality traits on perceived was also assessed. General self-efficacy was measured with a single
stress, indicating a possible role of general self-efficacy in shaping item in 2009 (I have confidence in my capabilities).The following
CSE (Ebstrup, Eplov, Pisinger, & Jorgensen, 2011). demographic information relevant to our research was used: age
The aim of the present study is twofold: first, to examine to and gender of the respondent, and level of education.
what extent personality traits and general self-efficacy prospec- Personality traits were measured in the surveys on personality
tively predict CSE perceptions. Since the associations between in 2009 and 2011 using the International Personality Item Pool
personality traits and CSE may depend on the level of PTSD- (IPIP, Goldberg, 1999). This measure is based on the Big-five factor
symptoms, it was also assessed whether these differ between structure of personality. The 50-item version was used. The IPIP
respondents with low-medium levels and respondents with high has a consistent factor structure, and has also demonstrated strong
levels of PTSD-symptoms. After all, if one experiences no severe concurrent validity with other personality measures (Gow,
PTSD symptoms, the challenges to overcome in order to resume Whiteman, Pattie, & Deary, 2005; Zheng et al., 2008).
normal life might be different than if one experiences severe symp- The 7-item Coping Self-Efficacy Measure (Bosmans et al., 2014;
tomatology. Second, to test whether personality traits assessed one Van der Velden et al., 2013) was administered in the survey on
year before CSE was measured are more predictive than traits trauma (2012) to assess CSE. Respondents rated their perceived
assessed three years before. To the best of our knowledge, to date efficacy on dealing with different consequences of the PTE on a
no study has addressed these questions. 7-point scale. Possible scores range from 7 (lowest self-efficacy)
to 49 (highest self-efficacy). In this study the internal consistency
of the CSE scale was high (a = .91).
2. Method Event-related PTSD symptoms were measured in the survey on
trauma (2012) using the original 15-item Impact of Event Scale
2.1. Participant characteristics and sampling (IES, Horowitz, Wilner, & Alvarez, 1979) and the 6 hyperarousal
items of the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R, Weiss &
This study was conducted within the LISS (Longitudinal Internet Marmar, 1997). The original scoring system of the IES was used,
Studies for the Social sciences) panel. The panel consists of almost however (respondents were asked how often they suffered from
8000 individuals, and is operated by the CentERdata research insti- symptoms in the past week on a 4-point measurement scale, with
tute in Tilburg, the Netherlands. The panel is based on a traditional 0 indicating not at all, 1 indicating rarely, 3 indicating sometimes,
random sample drawn from the population register by Statistics and 5 indicating often). This version of the IES(-R) will be referred
Netherlands, and has been operational since October 2007. Panel to as the IESplus in this study. This approach has been used in
46 M.W.G. Bosmans et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 76 (2015) 44–48

previous research (cf. Pfefferbaum et al., 2003). The benefit of this more recently, and were more often injured during the PTE.
approach is its comparability with results obtained using the origi- Furthermore, those with high PTSD symptoms had, as expected,
nal IES, while still allowing for the measurement of all three symp- lower CSE scores. In addition, they scored lower on emotional sta-
tom clusters of PTSD. The construct validity and reliability of the bility (2009, 2011) and agreeableness (2009).
Dutch version of the IES was acceptable across different traumatic In Table 2 the results of the multiple regression analyses using
experiences (Van der Ploeg, Mooren, Kleber, van der Velden, & personality traits measured in 2009 are shown. Only 12.9% of var-
Brom, 2004). Cronbach’s alpha for the IESplus total score in the iance in CSE scores was accounted for in the final model. Adding
present sample was high (a = .95). personality traits to the model explained 6.3% at step 2. Higher lev-
els of emotional stability were associated with higher levels of CSE.
Higher educational levels and higher levels of agreeableness were
2.3. Analyses
associated with higher levels of CSE. More time elapsed since the
event, and less severe injuries sustained during the event were also
All analyses were conducted in SPSS version 18 (SPSS, 2009).
associated with higher levels of CSE respectively. The model was
Using hierarchical linear regression the independent predictive
then calculated separately for those with different levels of PTSD.
values of personality traits were investigated as follows: at step
Total variance explained by the final model for the low-symptoms
1 demographics, event-related variables and general level of
group was 9.4%. Adding the personality traits increased explained
confidence in abilities were entered. At step 2 the personality traits
variance with 3.5%. Again, higher levels of emotional stability were
extraversion, emotional stability, openness, agreeableness and
associated with higher levels of CSE. In the group with high PTSD
conscientiousness were entered. The model was first specified for
symptom levels, the model predicted 14.2% of variance in CSE
the entire sample, followed by separate models for respondents
scores. Explained variance increased with 9.1% when personality
with low-to-medium PTSD symptoms (lower 70%, cutoff IESplus
traits were added to the model. Here, only higher levels of emo-
< 30) and respondents with high PTSD-symptomatology (upper
tional stability and more time elapsed since the event were signif-
30%, cutoff P 30). Differences between these sub-groups were
icantly associated with CSE.
assessed using chi-square and t-tests.
Table 2 also shows the results of analyses using personality
traits measured in 2011. Results for the entire sample are almost
3. Results identical to those using personality traits measured in 2009. The
final model explained 14.7% of variance in CSE scores. Adding per-
Correlation coefficients between personality traits across 2009 sonality traits added 8.1% explained variance. The same variables
and 2011 measurements ranged between .74 and .82. Table 1 made independent contributions to CSE levels (emotional stability,
shows characteristics for the total sample and the high- and low- agreeableness, education level, time since the event and injuries).
PTSD symptoms groups. Comparisons of the low-symptom and For the low-symptoms group explained variance was 11.5% in
high-symptom groups showed some significant differences. the final model, with personality traits adding 5.6%. Among this
Among the high-symptom group, there was a greater proportion group higher levels of emotional stability, agreeableness, higher
of women, respondents were on average older, had a smaller education and female gender were associated with higher levels
proportion in high education categories, had experienced the PTE of CSE. Explained variance for the high-symptoms group was

Table 1
Sample characteristics.

Total group (N = 1154) Low symptoms (N = 814) High symptoms (N = 340) Low v. high
M/% SD M/% SD M/% SD p

Age (years) 52.48 15.75 51.71 15.95 54.34 15.14
⁄⁄⁄
Gender (male) 46.36 50.74 35.88
⁄⁄⁄
Education level
Primary 6.51 6.27 7.08
Vocational 60.80 57.40 68.70
High vocational/university 32.70 36.30 24.20

Sustained injuries
None 91.94 93.00 89.41
Light injuries 4.42 4.55 4.12
Severe injuries 3.64 2.46 6.47
⁄⁄
Time since event
0–6 months 37.20 35.50 41.18
7–12 months 24.00 24.08 23.82
13–24 months 38.82 40.42 35.00
Extraversion (2009) 32.62 6.37 32.51 6.17 32.91 6.81
Extraversion (2011) 32.42 6.50 32.37 6.43 32.53 6.67

Agreeableness (2009) 39.31 4.75 39.10 4.67 39.81 4.91
Agreeableness (2011) 39.10 4.87 38.93 4.79 39.50 5.05
Conscientiousness (2009) 37.74 5.06 37.76 5.06 37.69 5.06
Conscientiousness (2011) 37.46 5.27 37.57 5.25 37.19 5.31
⁄⁄⁄
Emotional stability (2009) 33.99 6.71 34.77 6.51 32.12 6.83
⁄⁄⁄
Emotional stability (2011) 34.37 6.99 35.31 6.77 32.12 7.02
Openness (2009) 35.18 4.83 35.26 4.76 34.98 5.02
Openness (2011) 34.88 4.98 35.04 4.96 34.51 5.03
Confidence in abilities (2009) 5.59 1.06 5.63 1.02 5.51 1.12
⁄⁄⁄
CSE 40.85 7.78 43.06 6.67 35.54 7.69

Note: ⁄p < .05, ⁄⁄


p < .01, ⁄⁄⁄
p < .001.
M.W.G. Bosmans et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 76 (2015) 44–48 47

Table 2
Linear regression predicting coping self-efficacy.

Total group (N = 1154) Low PTSD symptoms (N = 814) High PTSD symptoms (N = 340)
2009 2011 2009 2011 2009 2011
DR2 b DR2 b DR 2 b DR 2 b DR2 b DR 2 b
Step 1 Age .07 .02 Idem .06 .03 Idem .05 .09 Idem
⁄⁄
Gender (0 = male) .00 .11 .0.1
⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄⁄
Education level .15 .15 .05
⁄⁄
Injuries .08 .04 .05
⁄⁄ ⁄
Time since event .09 .01 .11
⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄
Confidence in capabilities .16 .16 .16
Step 2 Age .06 .02 .08 .02 .04 .01 .06 .01 .09 .05 .07 .04
⁄ ⁄
Gender (0 = male) .00 .00 .10 .09 .05 .04
⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄ ⁄⁄
Education level .13 .11 .11 .10 .05 .03
⁄⁄ ⁄
Injuries .07 .06 .04 .03 .06 .03
⁄⁄ ⁄⁄ ⁄
Time since event .10 .08 .03 .02 .11 .10
Confidence in capabilities .04 .05 .07 .07 .03 .05
Extraversion .00 .03 .02 .01 .05 .02
⁄⁄ ⁄ ⁄ ⁄⁄
Agreeableness .09 .07 .10 .11 .12 .04
Conscientiousness .01 .05 .00 .02 .01 .06
⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄⁄ ⁄⁄⁄
Emotional stability .26 .29 .16 .21 .29 .26
Openness .01 .01 .04 .03 .04 .02

Note: ⁄p < .05, ⁄⁄


p < .01, ⁄⁄⁄
p < .001.

12.4% in the final model, with personality traits adding 7.4%. Here, with a subsample that had experienced the PTE after measurement
only higher levels of emotional stability were associated with of personality in 2011. Results of these analyses were very similar
higher levels of CSE. to the results for the entire sample. This is in line with a previous
study by Ogle, Rubin, and Siegler (2014), who found that the per-
4. Discussion sonality trait of neuroticism did not change more among trauma-
exposed individuals than among individuals not exposed to
Findings showed that prospectively measured personality trauma. Whether changes in the personality traits that were signif-
traits, general confidence in abilities, demographics, and event- icantly associated with CSE (emotional stability and agreeableness)
related characteristics, explained a relatively small amount of affected CSE levels was also examined. For both personality traits,
variance in CSE levels. This suggests that general constructs like the degree of change was not significantly associated with CSE.
personality traits and general self-efficacy, are not able to reliably Since examining the changes in individual personality traits is
predict individual reactions in the specific context of traumatic beyond the scope of this paper, results are not shown (available
events. on request).
The overall effect of personality traits on trauma-related CSE is Results for non-personality predictors were mixed: women and
limited. Emotional stability was the only trait that affected CSE those more highly educated had higher CSE levels among the low-
among the high-symptoms group. As could be expected, results symptoms group. Surprisingly, the proportion of women was much
showed that among those with higher PTSD symptomatology lev- larger among the high-symptoms group than among the low-
els of emotional stability and levels of CSE are lower. This indicates symptoms group, despite the positive effect of female gender on
that people with a higher overall tendency to experience negative CSE in the total sample. It might be that for women the effect of
emotions not only more negatively perceive their ability to deal CSE on posttraumatic stress symptoms is weaker than for men,
with the event, they also experience higher levels of traumatic and offers less protection in dealing with a PTE. This is in line with
stress, suggesting that victims with lower trait emotional stability previous findings that the mediating effect of CSE on posttraumatic
enter a negative spiral. They are more likely to experience high lev- stress symptoms is stronger among men than among women
els of traumatic stress and will evaluate their ability to overcome (Bosmans, Benight, van der Knaap, Winkel, & van der Velden,
the consequences of the event more negatively. This, in turn, 2013). The effect of education among the low-symptoms group
may lead to a more chronic course of PTSD symptoms. Agreeable- indicates that those more educated are somewhat better able to
ness made an independent contribution to CSE levels only among adapt to the aftermath of a PTE as long as PTSD symptoms are
the low-symptom group. A possible explanation is that people not too high. The effect of experiencing a high level of stress might
who are more agreeable are more flexible, and are therefore better be strong enough to overcome any benefits those more highly edu-
able to adapt to new and taxing circumstances. The fact that agree- cated have. Time since the PTE was only significantly associated
ableness failed to make an independent contribution among the with CSE among the high-symptom group, indicating that the con-
high-symptoms group might be explained by the fact that emo- fidence to deal with the PTE increased over time for those who
tional stability was significantly lower among this group. were severely affected. While those relatively unaffected are confi-
As described, the use of two different waves of measurement of dent that they will be able to deal with the effects of the event,
personality traits was done deliberately. Test–retest correlations those highly affected seem to go through a phase in which they
showed that in our sample, stability of personality traits were are not completely sure they will overcome the consequences of
not very high. As is clear from the results, despite the fact that per- the event. The effect was very small however, just barely reaching
sonality traits are not completely stable, the timing of measure- significance in the model using personality traits measured in
ment has little impact when predicting CSE. For a number of 2009, and failing to reach significance in the model using traits
respondents, the 2011 measurement of personality took place after measured in 2011.
exposure to the PTE. Since this might have had an impact on the General confidence in abilities did not make a significant contri-
measurement of personality, the analyses were also performed bution in any of the groups after personality traits were added to
48 M.W.G. Bosmans et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 76 (2015) 44–48

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general self-efficacy? Anxiety, Stress and Coping, 24, 407–419. http://dx.doi.org/
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Deary, F. De Fruyt, & F. Ostendorf (Eds.), Personality psychology in Europe
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part of a large research project on CSE, granted by the Victim Sup-
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