Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

January 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Deanna Barch


Psychosocial factors have long been recognized as important to the etiology of schizophrenia. According to the stress-vulnerability model, the experience of stress is critical to the onset and/or maintenance of schizophrenia. Although there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that people with schizophrenia experience more stressful events than the general population, there is ample evidence that stress is linked with the course of illness. Traditionally, two lines of research have examined stress processing mechanisms: one focusing on the biological response to stress by studying the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal: HPA) axis and the other focusing on the psychological mechanisms delineated in the transactional stress model. According to the transactional stress model, an individual's reaction to stressors is determined, in part, by his or her appraisal of the stressor. The impact of a stressor is also determined by one's ability to cope with the situation, which in turn is related to the availability of various coping resources. Previous studies show that individuals with schizophrenia tend to use maladaptive coping strategies when faced with stressors. Research has also documented a disruption in their HPA axis function. The interactions of these processes, however, have not been explicitly investigated in schizophrenia. This study explored the relationships among appraisal, coping strategies, cortisol secretion and perceived stress in a group of individuals with schizophrenia, their genetic high-risk siblings and community controls. The study evaluated participants' appraisals and coping strategies to experimentally induced conditions of stress as well as their usual coping strategies to everyday stressors. Coping resources, such as social support and cognitive ability, were tested as mediators for group differences in perceived stress and use of different coping strategies.


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