Sometimes life seems to pile up all at once. We find ourselves trying to juggle a multitude of daily challenges, large and small, or unexpected events that send our anxiety or stress responses into a tailspin.
When this happens, it can be difficult to take a moment to check-in and see how we’re really coping. We might think we’re doing okay and participating in supportive behaviors, but how accurate is that really? And how do we reflect adequately to address where we might be indulging in behaviors that are counterintuitive to help us cope effectively?
As ever, positive psychology might hold the tools and resources that can help us. One type of resource you can tap into are scales for measuring coping.
This article contains:
- What Do Coping Questionnaires Measure Exactly?
- A Look at the Reliability and Validity
- The COPE Inventory
- The Carver Brief COPE Inventory (+PDF)
- The Coping Self-Efficacy Scale (CSES)
- The Brief Resilient Coping Scale (BRCS)
- The Proactive Coping Inventory (PCI)
- The Dyadic Coping Inventory (DCI)
- A Take-Home Message
What Do Coping Questionnaires Measure Exactly?
Coping questionnaires aim to measure your coping strategies and ability to self-regulate in response to different experienced stressors.
Perhaps when we’re trying to understand what coping questionnaires measure, a good place to start is by understanding what we mean by ‘coping.’ Different cognitive psychological theories have attempted to define coping. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) defined it as:
Constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person.
Individual behaviors relating to coping can be challenging to measure, as we respond differently to the same type of stressor, depending on several different factors including our character traits, specific environment, support networks, and individual life experiences.
How we cope as individuals may also change as we develop, and just because we respond to one scenario in one way, doesn’t mean we’ll react to it the same way if it happens again.
Coping questionnaires are helping us to understand our coping strategies at any given moment towards different situations in our lives. Coping strategies can be positive, for example, tapping into your social support network, or negative, such as turning to alcohol or drugs.
A Look at the Reliability and Validity
Most of the research on coping is divided into exploring two key areas: coping styles or coping strategies. While they seem similar, there is a core distinction between the two:
Coping style refers to your disposition towards handling challenging situations or stressors. Endler and Parker (1990) suggested that there are three basic coping styles: task-oriented, emotion-oriented, and avoidance-oriented. Your coping style may stay consistent across different situations and experiences, and the coping strategies you use within this may change and adapt.
Research into coping styles has received a fair amount of criticism. The main criticism is that that in focusing only on coping styles, the variability and complexity of coping efforts overall are not captured effectively, and stifles predictive validity within the research (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984).
The researchers argue that a better evaluation and validity can be developed by focusing on coping strategies within specific contexts, rather than how someone copes with stress generally.
Studies that use coping scales or measurements focused on measuring coping strategies for specific situations or stressors have been found to be more valid and reliable (Daniels and Harris, 2005, Lazarus and Folkman, 1984).
Greenaway et al. (2015) conducted a review of 6 different coping measures. They found that overall, these types of measures tended to have higher validity, but some tests had poorer test-retest reliability than others (specifically The Ways of Coping Questionnaire).
One of the main criticisms for the validity and reliability of coping scales and measures for coping strategies is that they ask participants to recall stressful experiences or respond to hypothetical situations which fail to measure ‘in the moment’ coping responses (Porter and Stone, 1996, Steptoe, 1989).
Overall, researchers agree there is some weakness to these measurements; however, they can still be a great tool and resource. Greenaway et al. (2015) summarised that low to moderate inconsistencies with coping measures should not deter their use, but that researchers need to be rigorous in selecting the scales or questionnaires they use with their particular participant groups.
The COPE Inventory
The COPE inventory was created by Carver (1989). It is a multi-dimensional inventory developed to asses the different coping strategies people use in response to stress. COPE stands for Coping Orientation to Problems Experienced.
The inventory is a list of statements that participants review and score. There are two main components to the COPE inventory: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping.
Five scales aim to measure each of these:
- Active Coping
- Suppression of Competing Activities
- Restraint Coping
- Seeking of Instrumental Social Support
Example statements from the inventory include ‘I concentrate my efforts on doing something about it’ and ‘I take additional action to try to get rid of the problem.’
- Seeking of Emotional Social Support
- Positive Reinterpretation
- Turning to Religion
Example statements from the inventory include ‘I discuss my feelings with someone’ and ‘I seek God’s help.’
It also contains three scales aimed at measuring coping responses:
- Focus on and Venting of Emotions
- Behavioral Disengagement
- Mental Disengagement
Example statements from the inventory include ‘I get upset and let my emotions out’ and ‘I get upset, and am really aware of it.’
How Does Scoring Work?
To score the COPE Inventory, you need to first respond to each of the statements with a score from 1 to 4, as follows:
1 = I usually don’t do this at all
2 = I usually do this a little bit
3 = I usually do this a medium amount
4 = I usually do this a lot
Each statement in the inventory is then connected to a specific coping strategy that sits under either the problem-focused, emotion-focused, or coping responses measures. Your scores will inform you which form of coping strategy you are more engaged in.
For example, Active Coping in the inventory is measured with the following four statements:
- I concentrate my efforts on doing something about it.
- I take additional action to try to get rid of the problem.
- I take direct action to get around the problem.
- I do what has to be done, one step at a time.
If you were to give these statements higher scores – such as a 3 or 4 – you would score highly as using Active Coping as one of your coping strategies. If you scored low – with a 1 or 2 – then Active Coping would not be one of your core coping strategies.
This scoring can help you ascertain which measures are your most reliable coping strategies from the different ones utilized in the inventory.
Access a full copy of the COPE Inventory, including scoring.
The Carver Brief COPE Inventory (+PDF)
One of the challenges and criticisms of the COPE Inventory was its length. The Brief COPE Inventory was adapted by Carver (1997) and is an abbreviated version of the full COPE Inventory.
The Brief COPE Inventory consists of only 28 statements, across two scales, and is more focused on understanding the frequency with which people use different coping strategies in response to various stressors. Participants using the inventory, score themselves from 1 to 4 with 1 being ‘I haven’t been doing this at all’ and 4 being ‘I’ve been doing this a lot.’
Statements from the scale include things like:
- I’ve been turning to work or other activities to take my mind off things.
- I’ve been concentrating my efforts on doing something about the situation I’m in.
- I’ve been saying to myself, “this isn’t real.”
Download the full Brief Cope Inventory and scoring instructions.
The Coping Self-Efficacy Scale (CSES)
Similar to the COPE Inventory, the Coping Self-Efficacy Scale (CSES) was created to measure an individual’s confidence in their coping strategies when it comes to handling challenges and stressors.
It was authored by Chesney et al. (2006) in partnership with Dr. Albert Bandura from Stanford University and initially developed for use with staff and patients at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.
The CSES contains 26 items which are prefaced by the statement ‘When things aren’t going well for you, or when you’re having problems, how confident are you that you can do the following.’
Example statements include things like:
- Make new friends.
- Do something positive for yourself when you are feeling discouraged.
- Make unpleasant thoughts go away.
- Think about one part of the problem at a time.
How Does Scoring Work?
Participants using the scale are asked to give each of the 26 statements a personal score from 0 to 10 as follows:
0 = Cannot do at all
5 = Moderately confident I can do
10 = Certain I can do
A final score is created by summing all of the individual scores. A higher score indicates a high level of self-efficacy when it comes to implementing positive coping strategies. A lower score indicates a lower level of self-efficacy.
If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the scale, please email the author, Dr. Margaret Chesney to request permission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Brief Resilient Coping Scale (BRCS)
The Brief Resilient Coping Scale (BRCS) is an even shorter measure of resilient coping, designed by Sinclair and Walston (2004), to capture individual’s ability to cope with stress in highly adaptive ways.
When the researchers say brief – they mean brief! The measure contains only four statements, that participants rate from 1 (Does not describe me at all) to 5 (Describes me very well).
After giving each of the four statements a score, participants sum up their responses for a final score. A high score – between 17 and 20 – indicates that you are a highly resilient coper, and a low score – between 4 and 13 – suggests that you are a low resilient coper.
Access the Brief Resilient Coping Scale, including scoring.
The Proactive Coping Inventory (PCI)
The Proactive Coping Inventory (PCI) was developed by Greenglass and Schwarzer (1998). The PCI was created to measure different proactive approaches to coping and contains seven subscales to achieve this:
- Proactive Coping
- Preventive Coping
- Reflective Coping
- Strategic Planning
- Instrumental Support Seeking
- Emotional Support Seeking
- Avoidance Coping
There are 55 statements in total in the inventory, and participants are asked to give each statement a score between 1 (Not at all true) and 4 (Completely true). Example statements include:
- I like challenges and beating the odds.
- I visualize my dreams and try to achieve them.
- Despite numerous setbacks, I usually succeed in getting what I want.
- I try to pinpoint what I need to succeed.
The statements are grouped by the subscale they relate to (so the examples above all relate to the Proactive Coping subscale) and then totals are used to ascertain which subscales of coping you use the most.
Access the full Proactive Coping Inventory, including scoring.
The Dyadic Coping Inventory (DCI)
The Dyadic Coping Inventory (DCI) was created by Bodenmann (2008) and is slightly different from the other scales mentioned in this article in that it was specifically developed to be used within close relationships, for when one or both partners are experiencing stress.
It contains 37 statements which aim to measure communication and dyadic coping. Dyadic coping relates closely to partners in close relationships and strategies include:
Dyadic coping also involves:
- One partner’s attempt to reduce the stress of the other partner.
- A joint effort from both partners to deal with stress that may impact their relationship.
The DCI contains six subscales that ask each person to reflect on how they communicate stress to their partner, how their partner responds, how their partner communicates they are stressed, how they react to their partner’s stress, how they behave when both partners are stressed, and how you cope as a couple.
Example statements include:
- When my partner feels he/she has too much to do, I help him/her out.
- When my partner is stressed, I tend to withdraw.
- We help one another to put the problem in perspective and see it in a new light.
Each statement is given a score between 1 (Very rarely) and 4 (Very often). Higher scores reflect higher dyadic coping for each of the subscales.
Access to the full Dyadic Coping Inventory, including scoring instructions.
A Take-Home Message
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coping scales and questionnaires! There have been many more developed that aim to provide insights for specific challenges and stressors that may be experienced by individuals, as well as scales that can be used with different groups – including young children and teenagers.
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this article, it’s that our coping strategies and styles can develop and change over time, as we grow, learn and develop through our experiences.
Coping scales are a great way to understand further your ways of coping at one point in time, and should be revisited often so you can develop an on-going relationship with your coping styles and reflect on how you might be able to improve.
Have you used any coping scales or questionnaires yourself? I’d love to hear about your personal experiences in the comments.
- Bodenmann, G. (2008). Dyadisches Coping Inventar: Testmanual [Dyadic Coping Inventory: Test manual]. Bern, Switzerland: Huber.
- Carver, C. (1989).
- Carver, C. (1997). You want to measure coping but your protocol’s too long: Consider the brief COPE. International Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 4
- Chesney, M. A., Neilands, T. B., Chambers, D. B., Taylor, J. M., Folkman, S. (2006). A validity and reliability study of the coping self-efficacy scale. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1602207/
- Endler, N. S., & Parker, J. D. A. (1990). Multidimensional assessment of coping: A critical evaluation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58.
- Daniels, K., and Harris, C. (2005). A daily diary study of coping in the context of job demands-control-support model. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 66.
- Greenaway, K., Louis, W. R., Parker, S. L., & Kalokerinos, E. (2015). Measures of Coping for Psychological Well-Being. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282566883_Measures_of_Coping_for_Psychological_Well-Being
- Greenglass, E. & Schwarzer, R. (1998). The Proactive Coping Inventory (PCI). In R. Schwarzer (Ed.), Advances in health psychology research (CD-ROM). Berlin: Free University of Berlin.
- Lazarus, R., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.
- Porter, L. & Stone, A. (1996). An approach to assessing daily coping. In Zeidner, M. and Endler, N. (Eds). Handbook of Coping: Theory, Research, and Applications. Oxford, UK.
- Sinclair, V. G., & Wallston, K.A. (2004). The development and psychometric evaluation of the Brief Resilient Coping Scale. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14994958
- Steptoe, A. (1989). An abbreviated version of the Miller Behavioral Style Scale. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 28.