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Friday, 14 January 2011 17:49

Hardiness

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The characteristic of hardiness is based in an existential theory of personality and is defined as a person’s basic stance towards his or his place in the world that simultaneously expresses commitment, control and readiness to respond to challenge (Kobasa 1979; Kobasa, Maddi and Kahn 1982). Commitment is the tendency to involve oneself in, rather than experience alienation from, whatever one is doing or encounters in life. Committed persons have a generalized sense of purpose that allows them to identify with and find meaningful the persons, events and things of their environment. Control is the tendency to think, feel and act as if one is influential, rather than helpless, in the face of the varied contingencies of life. Persons with control do not naïvely expect to determine all events and outcomes but rather perceive themselves as being able to make a difference in the world through their exercise of imagination, knowledge, skill and choice. Challenge is the tendency to believe that change rather than stability is normal in life and that changes are interesting incentives to growth rather than threats to security. So far from being reckless adventurers, persons with challenge are rather individuals with an openness to new experiences and a tolerance of ambiguity that enables them to be flexible in the face of change.

Conceived of as a reaction and corrective to a pessimistic bias in early stress research that emphasized persons’ vulnerability to stress, the basic hardiness hypothesis is that individuals characterized by high levels of the three interrelated orientations of commitment, control and challenge are more likely to remain healthy under stress than those individuals who are low in hardiness. The personality possessing hardiness is marked by a way of perceiving and responding to stressful life events that prevents or minimizes the strain that can follow stress and that, in turn, can lead to mental and physical illness.

The initial evidence for the hardiness construct was provided by retrospective and longitudinal studies of a large group of middle- and upper-level male executives employed by a Midwestern telephone company in the United States during the time of the divestiture of American Telephone and Telegraph (ATT). Executives were monitored through yearly questionnaires over a five-year period for stressful life experiences at work and at home, physical health changes, personality characteristics, a variety of other work factors, social support and health habits. The primary finding was that under conditions of highly stressful life events, executives scoring high on hardiness are significantly less likely to become physically ill than are executives scoring low on hardiness, an outcome that was documented through self-reports of physical symptoms and illnesses and validated by medical records based on yearly physical examinations. The initial work also demonstrated: (a) the effectiveness of hardiness combined with social support and exercise to protect mental as well as physical health; and (b) the independence of hardiness with respect to the frequency and severity of stressful life events, age, education, marital status and job level. Finally, the body of hardiness research initially assembled as a result of the study led to further research that showed the generalizability of the hardiness effect across a number of occupational groups, including non-executive telephone personnel, lawyers and US Army officers (Kobasa 1982).

Since those basic studies, the hardiness construct has been employed by many investigators working in a variety of occupational and other contexts and with a variety of research strategies ranging from controlled experiments to more qualitative field investigations (for reviews, see Maddi 1990; Orr and Westman 1990; Ouellette 1993). The majority of these studies have basically supported and expanded the original hardiness formulation, but there have also been disconfirmations of the moderating effect of hardiness and criticisms of the strategies selected for the measurement of hardiness (Funk and Houston 1987; Hull, Van Treuren and Virnelli 1987).

Emphasizing individuals’ ability to do well in the face of serious stressors, researchers have confirmed the positive role of hardiness among many groups including, in samples studied in the United States, bus drivers, military air-disaster workers, nurses working in a variety of settings, teachers, candidates in training for a number of different occupations, persons with chronic illness and Asian immigrants. Elsewhere, studies have been carried out among businessmen in Japan and trainees in the Israeli defence forces. Across these groups, one finds an association between hardiness and lower levels of either physical or mental symptoms, and, less frequently, a significant interaction between stress levels and hardiness that provides support for the buffering role of personality. In addition, results establish the effects of hardiness on non-health outcomes such as work performance and job satisfaction as well as on burnout. Another large body of work, most of it conducted with college-student samples, confirms the hypothesized mechanisms through which hardiness has its health-protective effects. These studies demonstrated the influence of hardiness upon the subjects’ appraisal of stress (Wiebe and Williams 1992). Also relevant to construct validity, a smaller number of studies have provided some evidence for the psychophysiological arousal correlates of hardiness and the relationship between hardiness and various preventive health behaviours.

Essentially all of the empirical support for a link between hardiness and health has relied upon data obtained through self-report questionnaires. Appearing most often in publications is the composite questionnaire used in the original prospective test of hardiness and abridged derivatives of that measure. Fitting the broad-based definition of hardiness as defined in the opening words of this article, the composite questionnaire contains items from a number of established personality instruments that include Rotter’s Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (Rotter, Seeman and Liverant 1962), Hahn’s California Life Goals Evaluation Schedules (Hahn 1966), Maddi’s Alienation versus Commitment Test (Maddi, Kobasa and Hoover 1979) and Jackson’s Personality Research Form (Jackson 1974). More recent efforts at questionnaire development have led to the development of the Personal Views Survey, or what Maddi (1990) calls the “Third Generation Hardiness Test”. This new questionnaire addresses many of the criticisms raised with respect to the original measure, such as the preponderance of negative items and the instability of hardiness factor structures. Furthermore, studies of working adults in both the United States and the United Kingdom have yielded promising reports as to the reliability and validity of the hardiness measure. Nonetheless, not all of the problems have been resolved. For example, some reports show low internal reliability for the challenge component of hardiness. Another pushes beyond the measurement issue to raise a conceptual concern about whether hardiness should always be seen as a unitary phenomenon rather than a multidimensional construct made up of separate components that may have relationships with health independently of each other in certain stressful situations. The challenge to future on researchers hardiness is to retain both the conceptual and human richness of the hardiness notion while increasing its empirical precision.

Although Maddi and Kobasa (1984) describe the childhood and family experiences that support the development of personality hardiness, they and many other hardiness researchers are committed to defining interventions to increase adults’ stress- resistance. From an existential perspective, personality is seen as something that one is constantly constructing, and a person’s social context, including his or her work environment, is seen as either supportive or debilitating as regards the maintenance of hardiness. Maddi (1987, 1990) has provided the most thorough depiction and rationale for hardiness intervention strategies. He outlines a combination of focusing, situational reconstruction, and compensatory self-improvement strategies that he has used successfully in small group sessions to enhance hardiness and decrease the negative physical and mental effects of stress in the workplace.


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