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  • 1. Teaching of Psychology http://top.sagepub.com/ Stress and Coping Activity : Reframing Negative ThoughtsJamie S. Hughes, Mary K. Gourley, Laura Madson and Katya Le Blanc Teaching of Psychology 2011 38: 36 DOI: 10.1177/0098628310390852 The online version of this article can be found at: http://top.sagepub.com/content/38/1/36 Published by: http://www.sagepublications.com On behalf of: Society for the Teaching of PsychologyAdditional services and information for Teaching of Psychology can be found at: Email Alerts: http://top.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://top.sagepub.com/subscriptions Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Permissions: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav >> Version of Record - Jan 1, 2011 What is This? Downloaded from top.sagepub.com by guest on April 10, 2012
  • 2. Methods and Techniques Teaching of Psychology 38(1) 36-39Stress and Coping Activity: ª The Author(s) 2011 Reprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.navReframing Negative Thoughts DOI: 10.1177/0098628310390852 http://top.sagepub.comJamie S. Hughes,1 Mary K. Gourley,2 Laura Madson,3 andKatya Le Blanc3AbstractStress management and coping techniques are not only relevant in many psychology courses but also personally relevant forundergraduate students. In this article, the authors describe an activity designed to provide students with practice evaluatingand challenging negative self-talk. Students responded to scenarios individually, were paired with another student to challengeerroneous and negative thoughts, and then joined with another pair of students to discuss the activity generally. When comparedto students who heard a lecture about reframing and negative self-talk, students who participated in the activity were more likelyto advise negative thinkers to challenge their thoughts and beliefs.Keywordscollaborative learning, stress management, coping, negative self-talkIn psychology courses, one of the most important and relevant their negative thoughts. The reframing activity utilizes thetopics for non–psychology majors is stress and coping. think, pair, square, and share technique. Students workHowever, as class time is often limited, students may not learn individually, then find a partner, and finally join another pairvaluable coping skills. To help students learn these skills, we to complete activities (Lymna, 1981; Millis & Cottell, 1998).developed a reframing activity. We used an interactive, discussion-based activity because such Negative self-talk is often an automatic reaction to stressful activities enhance enjoyment and learning (Smith et al., 2009).events. Reframing is a coping technique that assists one in To evaluate the effectiveness of the reframing activity, webecoming aware of one’s internal monologue; reframing taught the activity and measured learning by asking studentswidens one’s perspective of particularly challenging situations to apply their knowledge to a real-world setting. Students gave(Seaward, 2006). Steps involved in reframing include becoming advice to a person with chronic negative thoughts. These open-aware of one’s thoughts, evaluating content, and challenging ended answers were compared to answers provided by studentsnegative perceptions by questioning their validity. who had received a lecture regarding reframing of negative Awareness of self-talk relates to emotional intelligence, self-talk. We predicted that students in the activity conditionself-awareness, and the regulation of emotions (Depape, would provide better advice to a negative thinker than wouldHakim-Larson, Voelker, Page, & Jackson, 2006). Furthermore, students in the lecture condition.modification of negative self-talk is important in the process oflearning to regulate feelings. Morin (1995, 2005) suggestedthat recognizing self-talk helps people reproduce perspectives Methodof others in private speech and incorporate multiple perspectives Participantsinto social and emotional problem solving. Moreover, self- A total of 143 students (79 female, 61 male, 3 unidentified)awareness, monitoring, and communication of one’s thoughts, from a midsize southwestern university participated. Studentsfeelings, and behaviors are essential prerequisites for healthyemotional functioning (Saarni, 1999). Although others have investigated the value of stress 1 Daemen College, Amherst, NY, USAmanagement courses for the promotion of stress reduction 2 Gaston College, Dallas, NC, USA 3(Archer, 1986; Deffenbacher & Shepard, 1989; Romano, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM, USA1984; Somerville, Allen, Noble, & Sedgwick, 1984), to our Corresponding Author:knowledge there is no research examining the effectiveness Jamie S. Hughes, Daemen College, Department of Psychology, 4380 Mainof relatively short coping activities. The current activity helps Street, Amherst, NY 14226students recognize self-talk in response to stressors and reframe Email: jhughes@daemen.edu Downloaded from top.sagepub.com by guest on April 10, 2012
  • 3. Hughes et al. 37were 19 years of age on average (SD ¼ 1.83). The two classes their answers to the question, ‘‘Based on this exercise, whatwere similar in terms of demographics. In all, 63 students advice would you give a chronic negative thinker?’’ on the(52% female) were in the activity condition and 80 students board, and an in-class discussion regarding stress and personality(60% female) were in the lecture condition. The majority of styles ensued.students reported that they were traditional students (activity Students who attended the lecture received information89%, lecture 95%) in their freshman or sophomore year regarding the definition of stress, the connection between stress(activity 87%, lecture 91%). and health, and common coping strategies. Importantly, we provided information about negative self-talk. The instructor taught students how to recognize negative self-talk and com-Materials mon thinking mistakes. In addition, the instructor providedStudents read three scenarios describing stressful events they examples regarding how to challenge maladaptive cognitions.might encounter. We drew events from a survey completed theprevious semester (see Appendix A). On the following page,10 questions (see Appendix B) challenged common thinking Resultsmistakes and erroneous cognitions thought to lead to negative We used students’ practical application of the material via theemotions or maladaptive behaviors (Beck, 1976; Ellis, 1994). advice they provided to a negative thinker to assess learning.Following the questions, we provided space for positive We created categories based on a pilot test from the previousreframes. Finally, students answered general discussion ques- semester. Course instructors analyzed and coded students’tions designed to help them integrate their knowledge. We open-ended responses from their classes. The second author,administered the learning measure immediately following the who was blind to condition, made final decisions regarding thelecture or activity. Each student provided advice to a person coding of responses by assessing the extent to which the stu-with chronic negative thoughts; students could list up to two dents’ statements matched the given category. Cohen’s kappapieces of advice, as we provided two spaces. Students also (k ¼ .70) showed that there was substantial agreement betweencompleted four items pertaining to their enjoyment and subjec- raters. We collapsed categories such as ‘‘think positive’’ andtive learning. Students rated the extent to which the activity or ‘‘increase your self-confidence’’ to create six categories oflecture was interesting, fun, and useful and the extent to which advice. The resulting categories included suggestions such asthey believed they had learned a coping strategy on 7-point (a) think positively or increase one’s self-esteem; (b) performscales ranging from 1 (very little) to 7 (very much). a distracting activity; (c) be patient, simply get over it, or don’t worry about it; (d) seek social support from friends or a coun- selor; (e) challenge erroneous beliefs or negative thoughts orDesign and Procedure examine the issue from multiple perspectives; and (f) problemTo evaluate learning outcomes, we compared a reframing solve by objectively weighing the plusses and minuses.activity to a lecture about reframing. We introduced the activity The first three categories largely represented platitudes orand lecture during the stress and psychological disorders sec- avoidant strategies. The last three categories provided specifiction of the course schedule. However, students did not receive information about challenging thoughts, viewing situationsany prior information about the topic in either class, and we had from many perspectives, or directly coping with stressors.not assigned the stress and health chapter in the textbook. Both To ensure that there were no systematic differences in per-the reframing activity (taught by the first author) and the ceived stress between students in the lecture versus activitylecture (taught by the fourth author) required approximately conditions, students answered the following question approxi-40 minutes of class time. mately a week before the activity or lecture: ‘‘Compared to the Students responded to each scenario individually by listing average person, to what extent are you currently experiencingtheir thoughts and feelings. After this, the instructor provided stress?’’ Students in the activity (M ¼ 0.91, SD ¼ 1.49) and lec-a rationale for engaging in the activity, stating that although ture conditions (M ¼ 1.20, SD ¼ 1.38) did not differ withindividuals may be unable to change a stressor, they are able regard to experienced or perceived stress, t(141) ¼ –1.23,to change their reactions to it by learning to recognize, chal- p ¼ .22.lenge, and change negative self-talk. Students paired with a We analyzed students’ advice by activity versus lecture con-partner to challenge and reframe negative thoughts. As a pair, ditions using a chi-square test. We conducted separate analysisthey chose one of the scenarios and considered the questions for the two pieces of advice. Students who completed thedesigned to challenge erroneous beliefs or cognitions. Based activity were more likely to suggest cognitive reframing oron their answers to the questions, students wrote a positive problem-solving strategies, whereas students in the lecturereframe for the scenario. Students repeated the activity by chal- were more likely to give cliched advice about positive thinking, ´lenging their negative thoughts and writing reframes for an w2(5, N ¼ 140) ¼ 25.64, p < .01, V ¼ 0.43 (see Table 1). Theadditional scenario of their choosing. Then, student pairs found second set of responses also showed a significant associationanother partner pair (i.e., sat in groups of four) to discuss ques- between condition and the type of advice provided, w2(5,tions that would help them to generalize and integrate their N ¼ 128) ¼ 15.98, p < .01, V ¼ 0.35, with a greater proportionknowledge (see Appendix C). Finally, student groups wrote of students in the activity condition advising another to challenge Downloaded from top.sagepub.com by guest on April 10, 2012
  • 4. 38 Teaching of Psychology 38(1)Table 1. Percentage of Students Listing a Type of Advice by ConditionAdvice Category Advice 1 Advice 2 Lecture (%) Activity (%) Lecture (%) Activity (%)A. Think positively or increase your self-esteem 47.4 25.8 26.0 21.8B. Perform an activity to distract yourself from the stressor 12.8 0.0 17.8 7.3C. Be patient, get over it, or don’t worry about it 16.7 12.9 21.9 7.3D. Seek social support from friends or a counselor 6.4 12.9 8.2 14.5E. Challenge erroneous beliefs or examine the issue from multiple perspectives 12.8 40.0 15.0 40.0F. Problem solve by objectively weighing the plusses and minuses 3.8 8.1 11.0 9.1N ¼ 143.negative thoughts or take other perspectives (see Table 1). students only when they are learning a new skill. In the future,Finally, we collapsed the first and second pieces of advice and researchers could design experiments to examine these ques-coded the problem solving, social support, and reframing items tions or investigate the possibility that active learning increaseswith a 1 and coded the advice about positive thinking, patience, both short- and long-term retention of course material.and performing activities with a 2. Responses coded with a 1 rep- There are a few limitations of the current study. Most impor-resented concrete and active coping advice. Responses coded tant, random assignment between conditions was not possible.with a 2 represented platitudes or avoidant coping strategies. Stu- Differences may exist between students who chose to sign updents in the activity condition were more likely to advise active for the two sections of the course. However, both classes werecoping (63% vs. 37%) and less likely to suggest passive coping on campus, used the same textbook, and were non–nighttechniques (29% vs. 71%) than those in the lecture condition, classes, so it is unlikely that there were systematic differencesw2(1, N ¼ 268) ¼ 30.90, p < .01, V ¼ 0.34. in coping skills between the two. Furthermore, perceptions of Finally, we created two scales for the survey items regarding stress did not differ between the two groups of students. Otherthe extent to which students learned a coping technique and found limitations include demand effects and potential bias in thethe lecture or activity useful, fun, and interesting. We averaged coding of students’ open-ended responses. For example, it isratings that were related to learning (coping skills and usefulness; possible that the instructors unwittingly provoked demanda ¼ .80) and enjoyment (fun and interesting; a ¼ .87). Our effects, as both were aware of the hypotheses and independentanalysis revealed that the reframing activity students (M ¼ variables.5.00, SD ¼ 1.51) were more likely than those in the lecture The reframing activity educates students about controlling(M ¼ 4.31, SD ¼ 1.31) to report that they learned a useful coping their own stress and negative self-talk. However, instructorstechnique, t(138) ¼ 2.85, p < .01, d ¼ 0.49. Furthermore, students should not use it in lieu of a lesson on stress and its conse-in the reframing condition reported more enjoyment of the quences because general information about stress and healthactivity (M ¼ 4.82, SD ¼ 1.45) than did students in the lecture may increase the subjective value of coping techniques.condition (M ¼ 3.64, SD ¼ 1.48), t(138) ¼ 4.72, p < .01, d ¼ 0.81. Instructors should highlight that reframing is a coping mechan- ism; some individuals who are suffering from depressive and anxiety symptoms should seek the advice of a professionalDiscussion counselor or psychologist.When asked to apply their knowledge in a practical setting (i.e., We recommend the reframing activity to instructors whoprovide advice to someone who has chronic negative thoughts), would like to use an engaging teaching tool to discuss stress anda greater proportion of students in the reframing activity condi- coping. Instructors can use this activity in a variety of coursestion suggested people try to challenge their beliefs and thoughts such as introductory psychology, health psychology, abnormaland to examine a stressor from many perspectives to reframe psychology, and others in which stress is a relevant topic. Thenegative thoughts. Furthermore, compared to students in the reframing activity, like other active learning techniques, canlecture condition, a greater proportion of students in the refram- increase comprehension and retention of course material (Bern-ing activity condition suggested active coping techniques. stein, 1999) and can be conducive to lively discussions regard-Finally, students who participated in the reframing activity ing self-awareness, pessimism, cognitive restructuringreported they learned more and found the activity more enjoy- techniques, and other forms of active coping, such as problemable than did those who received a lecture. solving and time management. The activity can be time- Our data provide evidence that active, discussion-based consuming in large classrooms. Instructors wishing to shortenlearning techniques can be more effective for student learning the activity could ask student pairs to respond to only one sce-outcomes than traditional lecture-based techniques. However, nario of their choice instead of two. Alternatively, instructorsresearchers should investigate boundary conditions. For exam- could provide their own examples of negative self-talk and askple, discussion-based techniques may be effective only with students to challenge erroneous beliefs (using self-created ques-certain types of students (i.e., traditional students) or may assist tions or those provided in the appendixes). Downloaded from top.sagepub.com by guest on April 10, 2012
  • 5. Hughes et al. 39Appendix A Declaration of Conflicting Interests The authors declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect Stressful Event Scenarios to the authorship and/or publication of this article. Students read the following scenarios. We drew events from a pilot Fundingtest. Each scenario includes an example of a positive reframe. The The authors received no financial support for the research and/orpercentage of students listing the item is included in parentheses. authorship of this article.1. You just bombed an exam. You really needed a good grade. References (25.7%) Archer, J. (1986). Stress management: Evaluating a preventive a. Reframe example: One good thing about this experience is that I approach for college students. Journal of American College have learned that I need to study more for this type of exam. Health, 34, 157-160.2. You have to pay an unexpected bill and it causes an avalanche of Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. financial strain. (17.4%) New York, NY: International University Press. a. Reframe example: This is not the end of the world. The worst Bernstein, D. A. (1999). Tell and show: The merits of classroom thing that could happen is that I have to borrow money; in a few months everything will be fine. From now on I’ll try saving demonstrations. In B. Perlman, L. I. McCann, & S. a little money for unexpected bills. H. McFadden (Eds.), Lessons learned: Practical advice for the3. You just had a terrible argument with your best friend or signifi- teaching of psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 105-108). Washington, DC: cant other. It ended badly and you will not be able to talk to the American Psychological Society. person until tomorrow. (26.3%) Deffenbacher, J. L., & Shepard, J. M. (1989). Evaluating a seminar on a. I cannot read her mind so I will not jump to conclusions about stress management. Teaching of Psychology, 16, 79-81. what she is thinking. A little time away from the situation may Depape, A. R., Hakim-Larson, J., Voelker, S., Page, S., & Jackson, D. L. be good. (2006). Self-talk and emotional intelligence in university students. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 38, 250-260.Appendix B Ellis, A. (1994). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy: Revised and updated. Secaucus, NJ: Carol. Questions Used to Challenge Negative Thoughts Lymna, F. (1981). The responsive classroom discussion. In A. S. Anderson (Ed.), Mainstreaming digest (pp. 109-113). College 1. Are these thoughts really true? Park: University of Maryland, College of Education. 2. Are the negative aspects of this situation overemphasized? Millis, B. J., & Cottell, P. G. (1998). Cooperative learning for higher 3. What is the worst thing that could really happen? education faculty (American Council on Education, Series on 4. Is there anything that might be positive about this situation? Higher Education). Phoenix, AZ: Oryx. 5. Was a negative outcome assumed? Morin, A. (1995). Preliminary data on a relation between self-talk and 6. How do you know the situation will turn out badly? complexity of the self-concept. Psychological Reports, 76, 7. Is there another way to look at this situation? 267-272. 8. What difference will this make next week? In a month? In a year? Morin, A. (2005). Possible links between self-awareness and inner 9. If you had one month to live, how important would this be? speech: Theoretical background, underlying mechanisms, and10. Are you setting unrealistic standards for yourself? Would you be empirical evidence. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12, 115-134. this harsh if the event had happened to a friend? Romano, J. L. (1984). Stress management and wellness: Reaching beyond the counselor’s office. Personnel and Guidance Journal,Appendix C 62, 533-537. Saarni, C. (1999). The development of emotional competence. New Application Questions Used in the Final Portion of the Activity York, NY: Guilford. Seaward, B. L. (2006). Stress management: Principles and strategies for1. Based on this exercise what advice would you give a chronic health and well-being (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Jones & Bartlett. negative thinker? Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Weiman, C., Knight, J. K.,2. How could one more readily recognize when one was engaging in Guild, N., & Su, T. T. (2009). Why peer discussion improves student negative thinking? And how could one put a stop to the process of performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323, 122-124. negative thinking? Somerville, A. W., Allen, A. R., Nobel, B. A., & Sedgwick, D. L.3. How will each of you use this exercise to challenge negative (1984). Effect of a stress management class: One year later. Teach- thoughts in the future? ing of Psychology, 11, 82-85. Downloaded from top.sagepub.com by guest on April 10, 2012

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