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5-Factor Model and Proactive Coping in University Students Essay

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Updated: Nov 11th, 2020


The current paper will discuss the Five-Factor Model of personality and proactive coping. Additionally, the paper will analyze the association between proactive coping and personality. The topic is rather crucial because more and more young people experience high levels of stress when they appear in a new environment. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the concept of proactive coping and relate it to the ways of students’ management of stressors.

Proactive Coping and Ways of Measuring It

Straud, McNaughton-Cassill, and Fuhrman (2015) define proactive coping as the ability of a person to anticipate life challenges and get ready for them. Unlike simple coping, its proactive type suggests an invigorating conceptualization of coping that enables an individual to analyze their role in coping that transforms the current situational problem into a dispositional one. People’s mechanisms of coping with difficulties constitute a crucial aspect of the adaptation process (Hambrick & McCord, 2010).

Typical coping approaches tend to follow already known experiences and situational considerations. However, there is also a possibility that particular coping styles, as well as the ability to cope in general, depend on the intrinsic dispositions of a person. Therefore, a systematic connection between coping ability and surviving personality becomes quite possible (Hambrick & McCord, 2010).

The major difference between proactive coping and traditionally viewed coping in that the former is focused not on the present or past but the future. The ways of measuring proactive coping are closely associated with the two forms of this ability: preventive coping and proactive coping proper (Straud et al., 2015). Both of these types vary from the traditional understanding of coping since they are future-determined and active. Preventive coping is concerned with possible future dangers. Its major aim is to help a person reduce risks. Proactive coping presupposes emphasizing the elements that one wants to achieve. It is considered “challenge-focused” (Straud et al., 2015, p. 61). Proactive regards stressors as a possibility for personal growth (Straud et al., 2015).

Two of the most popular methods of measuring proactive coping are the Proactive Coping Inventory (PCI) and the Big Five Inventory (BFI) (Straud et al., 2015). The PCI is an instrument consisting of fifty-five items that are rated on a four-point Likert scale where one equals not true at all, and four equals true. PCI’s initial purpose is to function as a multi-aspect coping inventory that can evaluate various aspects of coping applied by people during a stressful situation as well as in predicting stress and complicated situations. The proactive coping subscale incorporates fourteen elements, such as “I turn obstacles into positive experiences” (Straud et al., 2015, p. 61).

The preventive coping subscale includes ten items, such as “I think ahead to avoid dangerous situations” (Straud et al., 2015, p. 61). Professionals consider the PCI as a valid and reliable method of measuring proactive coping.

The BFI incorporates forty-four elements and includes the following five personality dimensions: extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. In research by Straud et al. (2015), each of the elements is rated on a five-point scale where one equals strong agreement, and five equals strong disagreement. Researchers note a high level of validity of the BFI.

The Five-Factor Model of Personality

The Five-Factor Model of personality is a trait-established view of personality. Traits are defined as inner underlying aspects of a person that manifest emotions, behavior, and cognition (Straud et al., 2015). The five factors constituting the model are extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and agreeableness. The most important element of the model is neuroticism. This factor represents individual peculiarities of stress-, anxiety-, and depression-coping mechanisms (Hambrick & McCord, 2010; Straud et al., 2015).

People with high levels of neuroticism usually have low self-esteem, employ ineffective coping mechanisms, and prefer the irrational type of thinking (Straud et al., 2015). Neuroticism represents individual attitudes in considering and managing difficult issues that occur due to people’s perceptivity of troublesome experiences (Hambrick & McCord, 2010).

The element of extraversion is described as having a high level of sociability, enthusiasm, and warmth (Straud et al., 2015). Extraversion covers a wider theme than neuroticism does. Highly extraverted people express a desire to communicate and tend to be optimistic. The domain of conscientiousness is explained as the quality to be future-oriented and stimulated by an aim (Straud et al., 2015). Conscientious individuals are diligent, have power over their behavior, and conform to social standards (Hambrick & McCord, 2010).

The most prominent feature of openness to experience is intellectual inquisitiveness. However, this element of the Five-Factor Model does not only concentrate on intellectual characteristics. People who are open to experience are described as creative, imaginative, adaptable, responsive, and having well-developed esthetic feelings (Hambrick & McCord, 2010). The fifth element of the model is agreeableness. This feature is associated with altruism, emotional support, trustworthiness, and morality (Straud et al., 2015). An agreeable individual is highly sociable and prefers to work in cooperation with others rather than alone.

Apart from the five broad domains, the Five-Factor Model also incorporates thirty lower-order aspects such as depression, anxiety, fantasy, trust, competence, and others. The model has a high potency due to several aspects. The first indication of the model’s usefulness is that according to it, personality is dependent on temperament rather than the environment. The ways of manifesting the features are impacted by such dimensions as situational factors, culture, and developmental impacts (Hambrick & McCord, 2010).

The second significant feature of the Five-Factor Model is that each of its elements is valid within the cross-cultural framework. The five dimensions of the model have been proven to dominate in various cultures. As Hambrick and McCord (2010) mention, research results indicate that despite cultural diversity, there is a similarity in age-associated alterations in people’s personality profiles. The levels of extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience become lower with age, whereas the levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness become higher. Therefore, the Five-factor Model of Personality is a universal way of evaluating people’s approaches to expressing emotions and behavior.

The Relation between Personality and Proactive Coping

Research indicates that there are strong correlations between coping styles and personality (Afshar et al., 2015). Different dimensions of the Five-Factor Model lead to the divergence in choosing the styles of coping.


Neuroticism is most frequently associated with maladaptive coping styles and depression (Hambrick & McCord, 2010). Thus, this element has an imbalance with proactive coping. In their study, Karimzade and Besharat (2011) research students’ coping styles. According to research, neuroticism has a negative correlation with the negative emotional-focused style of coping in girls. At the same time, male students demonstrate a positive correlation between neuroticism and negative emotional-concentrated coping styles.


Extraversion has a positive correlation with proactive coping due to the association of coping with positive impact and social support (Hambrick & McCord, 2010). In students of both genders, extraversion is positively associated with positive emotional-focused and problem-focused coping (Karimzade & Besharat, 2011). However, while extraversion positively predicts proactive coping, it fails to predict preventive coping (Straud, et al., 2015). Such a situation may be explained by the fact that extraversion is mainly associated with a positive evaluation of stressors. Meanwhile, preventive coping incorporates considering threats, which is not the usual practice of extroverts.


As well as extraversion, agreeableness has a positive correlation with proactive coping (Hambrick & McCord, 2010). This domain is negatively associated with the negative emotional-concentrated style of coping in male students. In female students, agreeableness is negatively associated with negative emotional-focused copping and positively correlated with a problem-concentrated style of coping (Karimzade & Besharat, 2011).


Being goal-oriented, conscientious individuals tend to demonstrate a positive correlation with proactive coping (Hambrick & McCord, 2010). Conscientiousness is positively associated with problem-focused coping and negatively associated with a negative emotional-focused style of coping (Karimzade & Besharat, 2011). Such observations pertain to both genders of students. According to Karimzade and Besharat (2011), conscientiousness in female students can foresee the use of problem-focused coping positively.

Also, conscientiousness in girls predicts negative emotion-concentrated coping negatively. People with high conscientiousness tend to have strong determination (Karimzade & Besharat, 2011). When such individuals face challenges, they come up with a quick plan and logical decisions. Conscientious students tend to evade negative coping experiences.

Openness to Experience

According to Straud et al. (2015), this domain of the Five-Factor Model is positively associated with both types of coping: proactive and preventive. On the contrary, Hambrick, and McCord (2010) remark that openness to experience is not related to any of the coping styles. A possible explanation of such diversity in results is that the two groups of scholars used different personality instruments, and sample sizes of the studies were not equal.

Such qualities of openness to experience as creativity, intelligence, imagination, and flexibility help individuals to reevaluate situations and become more adaptable when thinking about resolutions to possible stressors (Straud et al., 2015). People who demonstrate a high level of openness to experience employ multiple coping styles to eliminate stressful situations (Karimzade & Besharat, 2011). These individuals encounter their emotions complacently and are good at perceiving the emotions of other people.

Types of Stressors to which University Students Are Exposed

Some of the most common stressors experienced by students are anxiety, depression, and personal issues (Leandro & Castillo, 2010). Other stressors include demographics and life satisfaction (Mahmoud, Staten, Hall, & Lennie, 2012). Researchers note that the coping styles of male and female genders differ. However, the typology of stressors is similar for boys and girls.

Depression and Anxiety

For students, anxiety and depression are the two most common stressors associated with their new social role. There are too many things that young people experience for the first time. They are far away from home, family, and friends. They meet many new people and cannot discern whom they can trust. Students have to learn to cohabit with unfamiliar people. Young people meet representatives of diverse cultures and learn many alternate opinions. In such circumstances, students must learn managing strategies. When they fail to do so, they become exposed to depression and anxiety.


Stress is similar to depression and anxiety, but this stressor is defined as the reaction to a challenge and is considered a dynamic process (Leandro & Castillo, 2010). While depression is a mental problem, stress is mostly concerned with physiology. Students who cannot cope with stress experience such physical discomforts as accelerated heart rate and deterioration in vision or digestion.

Life Satisfaction

Student’s satisfaction with life plays a crucial role in the adaptation process. Young people may feel happy or unhappy about such issues as academic activities, social life, or financial stability (Mahmoud et al., 2012). Naturally, if any of these aspects are negative, a student feels depressed.


Students’ susceptibility to stress depends on such demographic factors as age, gender, and social connections. According to Mahmoud et al. (2012), younger students tend to experience stress more frequently than older students. Also, students who belong to a religious or social organization feel less anxious than those who do not attend any social gatherings. Finally, Mahmoud et al. (2012) remark that belonging to the female gender presupposes a higher disposition to stress than being a male does.

Personal Issues

Apart from the mentioned stressors, there may also be problems that are quite personal, and cannot be classified into a concrete category. Students may have serious health issues or experience bullying. Young people may have a dramatic family situation or problems in private life. All of these issues distract students from the academic process and raise their exposure to stress.

Coping Strategies Suggested for Students

To help young people raise their levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience and reduce the level of neuroticism, Luyckx, Klimstra, Duriez, Schwartz, and Vanhalst (2012) suggest such coping methods as problem-solving, avoidance, and social support seeking. Problem-solving is most suitable for emotionally stable people who are more flexible and ready to try new strategies. Avoidance is suggested as an opportunity to get distracted from the problems that an individual faces. Looking for social support is the best strategy for those who feel dissatisfied with life or want to get involved in an activity to initiate communication with strangers (Luyckx et al., 2012).

The three strategies are related to one another differently. Problem-solving is positively associated with social support seeking and not associated with avoidance. According to Luyckx et al. (2012), social support seeking and problem-solving are considered positive strategies while avoidance is considered a negative coping method.


The paper is dedicated to the discussion of proactive coping and its two forms – preventive and proactive. Particular attention is given to analyzing the association between proactive coping and personality. The paper investigates the Five-Factor Model of personality and its domains: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. While the first element is related to a negative experience, the other elements have a positive correlation with proactive coping. The analysis of the literature shows that scholars consider the issue of proactive coping a rather significant one. Such copying is better than its traditional counterpart because it enables people to foresee adverse issues and avert them.


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Karimzade, A., & Besharat, M. A. (2011). An investigation of the relationship between personality dimensions and stress coping styles. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 30, 797-802. Web.

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Straud, C., McNaughton-Cassill, M., & Fuhrman, R. (2015). The role of the Five Factor Model of personality with proactive coping and preventative coping among college students. Personality and Individual Differences, 83, 60-64. Web.

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