Wednesday, June 23, 2010


When Sally was last in town, she talked about a psychological trait called "hardiness" that I hadn't heard of before. What she said about it was something like that people with high hardiness get bored easily and have trouble motivating themselves to do things they don't want to do. (That's my paraphrase, anyway; feel free to correct me in the comments.) I think she indicated that I might have high hardiness.

I became quite curious about this, because "hardiness" sounds like something good, and if there is something good associated with my slacker qualities, I want to know what it is! (Although in fact I misunderstood her completely and when I did my Google search today, I typed in "heartiness." But anyway.)

Apparently we hardy types (assuming I am one) are unusually stress-resistant. I would say that is true of me. It's not so much that I handle stress well by rising to the occasion as that I feel somewhat immune to stress (not entirely, of course). Apparently hardiness has three components:
  1. Commitment - feeling involved in life (as opposed to alienated)
  2. Control - believing that you can control/influence your circumstances (as opposed to feeling powerless)
  3. Challenge - being excited (as opposed to threatened) by changes; finding satisfaction in difficulty
It's hard to say how much these three ideas apply to me. The third one, "challenge," is a no-brainer. I've written before about how excited I always am about changes (even ones you might think of as probably bad; if I found out I was going to prison instead of grad school, I'd be on one level devastated, but I'd still be pretty excited to see what prison was like), and how I think difficulty correlates positively with satisfaction. (I view myself as kind of an excitement junkie - not in the sense of being a thrill-seeker, but in the sense of always finding things in the future to feel excited about.)

I don't have reason to think I have higher than usual levels of commitment and control. I can sometimes feel alienated, though not severely. I rarely feel powerless; I almost can't remember ever having felt that way.

In my cursory searching, I wasn't able to find anything about hardiness and lack of ability/motivation to do boring work. One article I saw said that hardiness was negatively correlated with neuroticism but positively correlated with the other big five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness). I would guess I am more open, less conscientious, slightly less extraverted, and slightly more agreeable than the average bear. I don't think I am very neurotic.

Going with the general meaning of the word, I do think of myself as "hardy" in ways that relate to what I've read. I usually look back at a stressful and difficult experience with joy (assuming nothing actually bad happened; I mean something like getting lost in the woods, not something like seeing your buddy gunned down in front of a liquor store) and I am fairly resilient. Hardiness is also associated with expressing satisfaction about one's life, and I'm definitely high in that area.

To cite any sources for this would suggest that it's not completely half-assed and basically along the lines of comparing oneself to characteristics expected for one's astrological sign. Still, I had a good time looking into it a little bit, and am happy (as one tends to be) to find a positive word that might describe me.


Edward said...

I am amused that you have successfully improved your credibility by not citing sources.

Where do you think I fit into this? Not very hardy at all?

Sally said...

The following is an excerpt from Sansome, Wiebe, & Morgan (1999) that is the only source of information about hardiness that I've ever read. I didn't remember much about the trait itself, only the results from this particular study examining performance and personality:

"The construct of hardiness evolved out of the stress and coping literature to explain individual differences in stress-resiliency (Kobasa, 1979; Kobasa, Maddi, & Kahn, 1982). Representing a constellation of three interrelated factors—control, commitment, and challenge—hardiness is theorized to protect against the adverse effects of stress by influencing both appraisal and coping processes. Control reflects the tendency to believe and act as if life experiences are predictable and controllable. Commitment influences the tendency to readily involve oneself in life activities and to find these activities interesting and purposeful. Challenge represents the belief that life changes are challenging opportunities rather than threats. Although not entirely consistent, data do suggest high hardy individuals respond to stressful experiences with lower levels of psychological and, in some cases, physical distress (see Funk, 1992; Orr &Westman, 1990;Wiebe &Williams, 1992, for reviews).

There is clear evidence that hardiness influences how individuals
appraise their life experiences. Persons high in hardiness report experiencing similar types of stressful life events as those low in hardiness, but evaluate these experiences as less threatening and more manageable (Florian, Mikulincer, & Taubman, 1995; Rhodewalt & Agustsdottir, 1984; Rhodewalt & Zone, 1989). Similarly, in response to objectively identical laboratory stressors, high hardy individuals make more positive appraisals than low hardy individuals (Allred & Smith, 1989; Wiebe, 1991). Hardiness also appears to affect how people manage stress once it is perceived. High hardy individuals report adopting coping strategies that are more active and problem-focused, whereas lowhardy individuals report more withdrawal and emotion-focused strategies (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989; Florian et al., 1995; Wiebe & McCallum, 1986; Williams, Wiebe, & Smith, 1992).

Although these appraisal and coping differences are consistent with the stress-buffering model of hardiness, this research is limited because it considers only how people respond to aversive situations once they occur. As articulated in transactional models of personality (Buss, 1987; Cantor, 1990; Smith & Anderson, 1986) and in recent reviews of the hardiness model (Wiebe&Williams, 1992), constructs such as hardiness also might influence the kinds of situations experienced because people actively create these situations through their choices and actions. From this perspective, high hardy individuals may not simply appraise a given stressor as purposeful, controllable, and challenging. They also might carefully evaluate their experiences, assess the costs and benefits of various actions, and then choose to engage in situations that they view as important, meaningful, and challenging. In this way, hardiness might influence not only reactions to the same stressors, but also the tendency to have qualitatively different experiences."

Sally said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sally said...

Comment continued (without fatal typo this time):

These remarks on conscientiousness resonated with me:

"In contrast to persistence by high hardy individuals, the greater persistence by individuals high in conscientiousness was not a function of the benefit manipulation or attempts to make the task more interesting. The pattern for conscientious individuals has some interesting implications. For example, the pattern suggests that these individuals may have less need to regulate interest in order to maintain motivation to reach an achievement outcome. These same characteristics may mean, however, that these individuals will be less likely to quit a stressful activity even if there is not a good reason to persist (e.g., stick with a bad job even when it ceases to be worthwhile), and be less likely to heed the affective costs that persistence may incur. This suggests that even though conscientious individuals may benefit in terms of being more likely to achieve certain outcomes (e.g., persist at a job or an exercise regimen), these outcomes at times may be achieved at the unnecessary expense of quality of life. At first glance, this implication appears to contradict several researchers who have suggested that conscientiousness is associated with greater longevity (e.g., Friedman, et al., 1995) and well-being (e.g., McCrae & Costa, 1991). Watson and Clark (1992) suggested, however, that conscientiousness is primarily associated with what they term the “attentiveness” component of positive affect (e.g., alert, attentive, concentrating, determined), and not the “joviality” (e.g., happy, excited) and “self-assurance” (e.g., confident, strong) components. This suggests that well-being of conscientious individuals is tied to achievement situations, in which benefits accrue from goal-oriented perseverence and concentration. Their well-being may vary to the extent that their day-today life possesses these characteristics. This suggestion is consistent with Watson and Hubbard’s (1996) suggestion that conscientiousness may not be associated with effective functioning in all situations, and with O’Brien and DeLongis’s (1996) finding that conscientious individuals reported greater planfulness in stressful agentic (i.e., achievement) but not communal situations."

As for Ed, it's my impression that effective coping with stress is not one of his most salient characteristics. (It's definitely not mine, either.)

Tam said...

I think I do fit the pattern described for hardy people in terms of persisting at a task. In general, I'm still not sure. I was thinking about this on the way to work and wondering if I can think of myself as hardy when I've really not experienced very many difficult or stressful events in my life. Maybe I appear stress-resistant because my life is just easy and pleasant.

I definitely do NOT fit the pattern for conscientiousness as described there. I'm extremely unlikely to persist with something I don't enjoy unless there are really compelling reasons for it (immediate reasons, not things like wanting to be a responsible citizen or valuing hard work).

Contrasting the time leading up to Sally going to grad school with this time I'm having now, I was able to notice a difference between us that I hadn't seen before. Sally didn't like being asked "Are you excited?" - I think because she mostly felt stressed about the upcoming changes. By contrast, all I can feel lately is excitement (or boredom/lassitude/impatience) and I love when people ask me about it.