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Lawrence Rakhmanov, Alison A. Papadakis, Ph.D., Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D., Rachel L. Grover, Ph.D.

Relations among Rumination, Distraction and Adolescent Depression: A Coping Ratio Analysis

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When individuals encounter stress, frequently they enact coping responses, which are efforts to regulate emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological stress responses (Compas et al., 2001). Typically, coping is measured with self-report questionnaires that generate total subscale scores, also called absolute scores, for different coping subtypes. However, experts have critiqued the utility of this methodology with one criticism being that differences between beneficial and harmful coping strategies may be concealed by individual differences in overall levels of coping (Connor-Smith et al., 2000; Coyne & Gottleib, 1996; Vitaliano et al., 1987). For example, consider two individuals who each have an absolute rumination subscale score of 20, but one has an absolute score of 20 and the other 10 on a distraction subscale. The absolute scores suggest they have similar levels of rumination. However, the first has an equal balance between rumination and distraction, while rumination predominates the coping of the second. We would expect different outcomes for these patterns.

An alternative approach is to operationalize coping with proportion scores that represent the ratio of a specific strategy to overall coping. Vitaliano et al. (1987) compared the absolute and proportion score approaches among psychiatric outpatients, spouses of Alzheimer’s patients, and medical students. They found proportion scores account for individual base rates for item endorsement, and differentiate clinical and nonclinical groups better than absolute scores. The proportion approach may be better because individual differences in overall item endorsement may reflect higher stress levels or reactivity, and proportion scores may partially control for those confounds. While others have used proportion scores with adolescents (Gaylord-Harden et al., 2010), no studies explicitly examine the utility of proportion scores versus relative scores in adolescents, and proportion scores are not used frequently in adolescents. Therefore, the aim of the current study is examine the relative utility of proportion versus absolute score methods in adolescents.

A key way to demonstrate the utility of an approach to quantifying coping is to examine the approach’s ability to predict depressive symptomatology because depression is correlated highly with coping responses, including brooding rumination and distraction, among youth (Abela & Hankin, 2011; Burwell & Shirk, 2007; Compas et al., 2004; Spasojevic & Alloy, 2001). Therefore, in this study, we will compare the relative strength of association of absolute versus proportion scores with depression. Study participants are 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, recruited from six parochial schools within the Mid-Atlantic. Absolute and proportion scores for brooding rumination and distraction coping will be calculated for the Response Styles Questionnaire (Treynor et al., 2003) and the Children’s Coping Strategy Checklist (Ayers, 1991). Then two cross-lagged path analyses will be performed with Time 1 brooding rumination or distraction and depression predicting Time 2 (2 – 4 month later) brooding rumination or distraction coping and depression. The analyses will be run once with absolute scores and once with proportion scores, and the results will be compared to determine if proportion scores have greater predictive utility. A literature review, study methods, and potential study implications will be presented.

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