The aim of the present study was to analyze the influence of gender differences,
and the number of life events on the levels of trait and state anxiety. The sample
comprised 148 male (M= 22.12 years, SD= 2.68 years) and 185 female (M= 22.08 years,
SD= 2.64 years) students. Anxiety was determined using the State-Trait Anxiety
Inventory (STAI), and Life Events were measured using the 1994 revision of the Social
Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS). Two hypotheses were tested. The first hypothesis
was supported that the level of trait and state anxiety increases with the number of life
events. The second hypothesis was also supported that women generally rate higher than
men in trait anxiety. It was concluded that anxiety cannot be solely determined by the
number of experienced major life events, as many social and psychological confounding
factors must be considered.
Assessing the Influence of Life Events and Gender differences on Anxiety.
Anxiety is the pain in reaction to the threat of losing an object (Freud, cited in
Finlay-Jones and Brown, 1981). It can be a normal response to an environmental demand
for major transition (state anxiety), or it can be a permanent characteristic in the way
one‟s personality respond‟s to the world (trait anxiety). Stressful life events may
significantly induce anxiety disorders that last longer than transient duration (Blazer,
Hughes, and George, 1987). It is necessary to note that the significant associations
between major events and psychological symptoms as proposed by previous studies were
often weak correlations. For this reason, it has been suggested that major life events may
play a minor role to the variance of the prediction of psychological symptoms (Barrett
and Heubeck 2000; Johnson and Sarason 1977). In response to this predicament,
researchers have considered other variables that may mediate the impact of life change.
Several moderating factors that would affect one‟s predisposition to anxiety include
personality characteristics (Garnefski, Kraaij, and Spinhoven, 2001); early life
experiences (Jackson and Finney, 2002); the availability of social support (Aseltine, Gore,
and Gordon, 2000); socioeconomic status (Camasso and Camasso, 1986); physiological
and psychological health status (Addolorato, Mirijellow, Angelo, Leggio, Ferrulli,
Abenavoli, Vonghia, Cardone, Leso, Cossari, Capristo, and Gasbarrini., 2008); maturity
level (Jackson and Finney, 2002) and gender differences (Conger, Lorenz, Elder, Simons,
and Ge, 1993).
Researchers have suggested that focus should be made on daily life events, rather
than major life events (Barrett and Heubeck, 2000). In support of this theory, hassles are
more strongly correlated with psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, than are major
life events (Wagner, Compas, and Howell, 1988). Hassles are frustrating and distressing
experiences that come to characterize the everyday dealings with the environment
(Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, and Lazarus, 1981) (E.g. workplace bullying and financial
difficulties). Hassles have been argued to affect trait anxiety (Wagner et al., 1988), as
they are a consistent source of stress that requires continued adaptive efforts to cope.
Furthermore, studies have found that the frequency of hassles experienced are more
influential than major life in events on developing psychological symptoms among older
adolescents (Rowlison and Felner 1988; Wagner et al. 1988) and adults (Kanner et al.,
1981), with a positive association. These studies have measured psychological symptoms
in terms of self-image, mood, and well-being; however, studies on the specific
relationship between anxiety and life events have not been extensive (Barrett and
Heubeck, 2000). To gain a comprehensive overview of daily experience, uplifts may also
be investigated (Barrett and Heubeck, 2000). Uplifts are positive and pleasurable
experiences during the daily course. (E.g. building positive relationships, or receiving a
compliment (Lazarus, 1984). Previous studies have shown that uplifts increase positive
affect (Kanner et al., 1981). People with more mastery and self-efficacy have been found
to experience lower levels of anxiety during stressful events (Aseltine et al., 2000). This
suggestion is supportive of the proposed stress-buffering effects of uplifts, as the
generation of positive affect improves coping ability by promoting behaviors of personal
action and problem solving. However, several studies of hassles and uplifts have provided
inconsistent results with a combination of proposed positive and negative relationships
(Barrett and Heubeck, 2000).
It has been strongly suggested that stressful events and social resources are
distributed unequally across the different socioeconomic levels. Moreover, individuals of
disadvantaged social classes have relatively less access to social support (Thoits, 1982),
and higher exposure to hassles (Wagner et al. 1988; Conger et al. 1993) and major
adversities (Camasso and Camasso, 1986). Discrete and chronic events of hardship (such
as a life-threatening situation, unemployment, marital issues, and financial difficulties)
influence the predicament of the onset and intensity of a variety of physical and
psychological maladies (Barrett and Heubeck, 2000). Aseltine et al. (2000) suggested that
such negative life events are source of high levels of stress that are strongly associated to
higher levels of anxiety. Hence, lower socioeconomic status has been found to relate to
higher incidences of psychological impairment. This is an enduring finding in community
mental health research (Camasso and Camasso, 1986).
Having access to social support has been shown to be critical for psychological
well-being. Simply having an approachable and understanding relationship with another
individual (for example, friendship and family cohesiveness) or feeling belongingness to
a group (for example, a church or a club) can lead to reduced levels of anxiety,
depression, and physical complains (Camasso and Camasso, 1986). Studies have shown
that helpful resources are set in motion to serve individuals of middle and upper
socioeconomic classes amidst major life events (Turner, 1981). In contrast, the incidence
of stressors in disadvantaged societies brings about extremely high levels of stress and
strain, as their already small support networks are overwhelmed. Thus, the risk of anxiety
is increased (Turner 1981; Conger et al. 1993).
Furthermore, social scientists have consistently found gender differences in
experiencing stress (Bird and Fremont, 1991). Researchers have argued that men and
women are dissimilar in their reactivity of distress because of gender-oriented patterns of
socialization, self-conceptions, and responsibilities (Kessler and McLeod 1984; Gove
1984). For example, women typically bear more household and childcare duties than
men, regardless of their employment status (Ross, Mirowsky, and Huber, 1983). These
patterns influence the exposure and response to different types of stressful life events.
Kessler and McLeod (1984) found that women are more vulnerable than men to
experience negative life events in their social network as women tend to be more
emotionally involved with the lives of their peers. Women are also more negatively
influenced by health difficulties, relationship problems, and uncontrollable life events. In
comparison, men have been found to have greater exposure to health and financial
difficulties, and are more negatively influenced by income loss and controllable life
events (Conger et al., 1993). Women have been found to be at a greater risk to develop
symptoms of trait and state anxiety (Pearlin 1989; Finlay-Jones and Brown 1981;
Addolorato et al. 2008). Although women tend to indicate a higher frequency of negative
life events than men, they may be less likely to report them despite their greater level of
distress (Conger et al., 1993). However, there is growing evidence to suggest that men
display different symptoms of distress that are channeled into behaviours of overt
aggression, substance abuse, or behavioural misconduct (Lennon 1987; Pearlin 1989).
Thus this finding is incongruous to the theory that women have a greater vulnerability to
The aim of the present study was to analyze the relationship between trait and state
anxiety and the number of life events, and to investigate the differences between men and
women in trait anxiety. The first hypothesis stated that the level of trait and state anxiety
increases with the number of life events. The second hypothesis stated that women
generally rate higher than men in trait anxiety.
The sample comprised 333 undergraduate psychology students across all Monash
University campuses that completed the study as part of a course requirement. There were
148 males (M= 22.12 years, SD= 2.68 years) and 185 females (M= 22.08 years, SD= 2.64
Anxiety was determined using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI;
Spielberger et al., 1983) which was comprised of two parts- Form Y-1 (State) and Form
Y-2 (Trait). The inventory is a 40-item measure, of which 20 items of Form Y-1 measure
transitory forms of anxiety within an individual (State Anxiety). The items of Form Y-1
measure feelings of apprehension, tension, nervousness, and worry about the current
situation (A-State). Participants rate the degree to which each item indicates his or her
present feelings on a four-point Likert scale, where the scores range from “Not At All
(1)” to “Very Much So (4)”. Higher scores indicate higher levels of anxiety. The other 20
items measure of Form Y-2 measure more stable forms of anxiety within an individual
(Trait Anxiety). Respondants rate the how they feel in generally, using a four-point Likert
scale, ranger from “Almost Never (1)” to “Almost Always (4)”.
Life Events were measured using the 1994 revision of the Social Readjustment
Rating Scale (SRRS; Holmes & Rahe, 1967). This measure consisted of 53-items that
describe different life events. The events were those of which were correlates of outcomes
of particular life events, or they were events which would lead one to adapt to the
changed circumstances. Each of the 43 items was ranked in order of the impact they make
upon one‟s life. The 43 items were divided into two different forms: (1) Controllable, or
(2) Uncontrollable life events. Each of the 43 items corresponds to a weighted ranking
according to its magnitude of impact.
Class participants across all campuses of the university were to submit a consent
form before they completed the STAI and the SRRS. Scores were individually calculated,
and all collated data was computerized, and outliers were transformed before conducting
further statistical data analyses.
Positive univariate outliers were detected in the collated data of age (ie. Older
students) and the number of life events (NLE). These extreme scores were lowered.
Furthermore, two positive univariate outliers were found in the LEcontrolled data and
were winsorised. No ouliers were detected in the LE-Uncontrolled data.
The relationship between anxiety (as measured by the STAI) and life events (as
measured by the SRRS) was investigated using Pearson product-moment correlation.
Preliminary analyses were conducted to ensure there was no violation of the assumptions
of normality, linearity, and homoscedasticity. There was a weak, positive correlation
between trait anxiety and the number of life events [r=.14, n=333, p<.01]; and a weak,
positive correlation between state anxiety and the number of life events [r=.15, n=333,
p<.01], with increasing number of life events associated with increases in trait/state
Table 1: Correlation between Anxiety (State and Trait) and the Number of Life Events.
Correlation with life events
State anxiety 0.15 333 0.005
Trait anxiety 0.14 333 0.009
Notes: Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
An independent-samples t-test was conducted to compare the trait anxiety levels
for males and females. There was a significant difference in scores for males (M= 38.53 ,
SD= 9.36) and females [M= 41.42 , SD= 9.72 ; t(331)= -2.74, p= 0.007]. The magnitude
of the differences in the means was very small (eta squared= 0.02).
Table 2: Means and Standard Deviations of Trait Anxiety in Males and Females.
Mean Standard Deviation
Males 38.53 9.36
Females 41.42 9.72
Notes: The unit of measurement is the „life events units‟ scores from the SRRS.
In this study, some causal linkages have been addressed by the analysis of life
events and gender relating to trait and state anxiety levels. The results of the current study
parallel most of the previous research by supporting the hypotheses that (1) the level of
trait and state anxiety increases with the number of life events, and (2) that women
generally rate higher than men in trait anxiety.
The findings of the current study indicate that approximately 1.96% (r= 0.14) of
the respondents‟ scores of trait anxiety and 2.25% (r= 0.15) of state anxiety are explained
by the experienced number of life events. This is consistent with results obtained by
previous researchers, that major life events are significantly but weakly associated to
anxiety (Barrett and Heubeck 2000; Johnson and Sarason 1977). Therefore, as suggested
by Johnson and Sarason (1977), further analyses need to be made on the validity of the
life stress measures, and also on other factors that may affect the relationship between life
events and anxiety. Thoits (1982) offers some insight into the factors of social status on
anxiety, proposing that disadvantaged individuals have greater exposure to hassles, and
less access to social support, thus increasing anxiety levels. Turner (1981) proposes that
disadvantaged societies have smaller support networks. Hence it can be reasoned that this
would lead to an increased impact of daily hassles (Barrett and Heubeck, 2000). With
increased experiences of hassles, experiences of negative affect may be increased.
Positive affect has been found to improve coping ability by encouraging characteristics of
mastery and self-efficacy (Aseltine et al. 2000; Barrett and Heubeck 2000), therefore it
can be predicted that increased negative affect may consequently decrease stress coping
abilities, thus increasing trait anxiety levels.
The results of the current study suggest that women significantly rate higher than
men in trait anxiety levels, where 2% (eta squared= 0.02) of the scores of trait anxiety are
explained by gender differences. This finding is congruous with the theory that women
are more susceptible than men to higher levels of trait anxiety (Pearlin 1989; Finlay-Jones
and Brown 1981; Addolorato et al. 2008). However, the scale disregards several
confounding variables of gender differences which may have affected the validity of the
results. It needs to be considered that men and women are different in their exposure and
response to different types of life events (Ross et al., 1983). The items of the SRRS do not
consider this gender difference in its weighting of distress for each item. Furthermore,
previous research has suggested that men and women display distress with different
symptoms (Lennon 1987; Pearlin 1989); and that women tend to be reluctant in reporting
anxiety symptoms, despite experiencing high levels of distress (Conger et al., 1993). It is
suggested that the STAI be revised to account for these gender differences, perhaps by
developing segregate inventories for men and women.
The results of this study also fail to reflect the influences of daily hassles,
socioeconomic status, personality characteristics, gender characteristics, and the
availability of social support and sources of uplifts; hence the external validity of the
results is low. Several limitations have been found regarding the adequacy of the two
measures (STAI and SRRS) to account for many confounding factors. First of all, the
STAI scale consists of measures that can be indicative of several psychological disorders,
such as depression. Therefore, it is suggested for future research that the items of the
scale be revised to be more discriminatory towards anxiety among other diagnostic
groups. Secondly, the SRRS measure is biased in the weighting of stress levels of each
event. It does not consider the confounding individual differences, such as social status,
cultural values, personality, gender, or personal history. For example, the life event of
„major purchase (>$10,000)‟ may vary in its weighting of distress, depending on the
individual‟s financial circumstances. Finally, the SRRS does not consider the differential
sampling of participants with each application of the scale, thus undermining the
generalisability of the scale in its developmental research.
By exploring the many variables that influence the development of anxiety, this
study has implications in helping the wider community gain awareness of the various
social factors that accumulate to the development of anxiety. Thus communal attention
can be augmented towards the more vulnerable groups. In addition, this study may
increase awareness in the gender differences of the development of anxiety, thus
increasing responsiveness from psychological first-aid. In conclusion, this study has
revealed that trait and state anxiety levels cannot be solely determined by the number of
experienced major life events. In research, many confounding factors must be considered
with the methods of measurement as they affect one‟s predisposition to anxiety when
coping with stress.
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Appendix 1: Check for assumption of normal distribution.
N Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Deviation Skewness
Statistic Statistic Statistic Statistic Statistic Statistic Std. Error
age 333 19 44 22.09 2.649 2.676 .134
nr LE 333 0 20 5.77 3.280 .621 .134
state anxiety 333 20 67 37.66 9.480 .495 .134
trait anxiety 333 20 70 40.14 9.651 .319 .134
Valid N (listwise) 333
Statistic Std. Error
age 14.515 .266
nr LE .458 .266
state anxiety -.018 .266
trait anxiety -.172 .266
Case Processing Summary
Valid Missing Total
N Percent N Percent N Percent
trait anxiety male 148 100.0% 0 .0% 148 100.0%
female 185 100.0% 0 .0% 185 100.0%
gender Statistic Std. Error
trait anxiety male Mean 38.53 .769
95% Confidence Interval for
Lower Bound 37.01
Upper Bound 40.05
5% Trimmed Mean 38.31
Std. Deviation 9.355
Interquartile Range 14
Skewness .377 .199
Kurtosis .040 .396
female Mean 41.42 .714
95% Confidence Interval for
Lower Bound 40.01
Upper Bound 42.83
5% Trimmed Mean 41.20
Std. Deviation 9.717
Interquartile Range 14
Skewness .269 .179
Kurtosis -.274 .355
gender Case Number Value
trait anxiety male Highest 1 250 66
2 68 62
3 86 61
4 45 59
5 210 59
Lowest 1 70 20
2 42 20
3 41 20
4 40 20
5 292 21
female Highest 1 324 70
2 314 65
3 112 63
4 311 63
5 134 62
Lowest 1 295 20
2 145 23
3 104 23
4 139 24
5 137 24
a. Only a partial list of cases with the value 62 are shown in the table of upper
Appendix 2: The correlation between trait anxiety (TA), state anxiety (SA), and the
number of life events (NLE).
nr LE trait anxiety state anxiety
nr LE Pearson Correlation 1 .143
Sig. (2-tailed) .009 .005
N 333 333 333
trait anxiety Pearson Correlation .143
Sig. (2-tailed) .009 .000
N 333 333 333
state anxiety Pearson Correlation .153
Sig. (2-tailed) .005 .000
N 333 333 333
**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
Appendix 3: The comparison of males and females in trait anxiety (TA) levels.
gender N Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean
trait anxiety male 148 38.53 9.355 .769
female 185 41.42 9.717 .714
Independent Samples Test
Levene's Test for Equality of
Variances t-test for Equality of Means
F Sig. t df
trait anxiety Equal variances assumed .313 .576 -2.735 331
Equal variances not assumed -2.746 319.888
Independent Samples Test
t-test for Equality of Means
Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Difference
trait anxiety Equal variances assumed .007 -2.882 1.054
Equal variances not assumed .006 -2.882 1.050
Independent Samples Test
t-test for Equality of Means
95% Confidence Interval of the
trait anxiety Equal variances assumed -4.956 -.809
Equal variances not assumed -4.948 -.817