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Fairhaven 440A

Spring Quarter, 1999

Joseph E. Trimble, Ph.D., Instructor

Seminar in Coping and Adaptation across the Developmental Life Span

Suggested Essay Topics

  1. Briefly distinguish and differentiate between the following social psychological constructs: adaptation, mastery, coping, and defense. Provide examples or illustrations of each as they relate to human survival especially when one is confronted with a personal problem or crisis.
  2. Consider the meaning and implications of the statement: "stranger in our own society." In your essay relate the essence of the quote and your interpretation to the social and psychological forces that influence our responses to change especially the kind posed by a crisis or natural disaster.
  3. Discuss the "crisis theory" concept. In your discussion include information about effective personal coping strategies for dealing with crisis. Include the notion of "compensation" theory in your discussion about ways to resolve a crisis.
  4. Identify and discuss the social psychological influences and relationship between external physical and social demands on the person and his/her inability to effectively respond and adapt to them.
  5. Identify and discuss the nature and impact of selected critical and stressful life events on children. Include in your discussion the strategies that children are likely to evoke in response to stress.
  6. How does one go about reversing the maladaptive or dysfunctional behavior brought on by a "perceived effective coping strategy" used by a person to respond to a crisis?
  7. What is a fully competent and effectively functioning adolescent in the general American society? Include in your discussion a comparative example from a culture where adolescence has yet to be "invented."
  8. Discuss the role of grief, bereavement, and sorrow in effectively responding to: (a) the tragic and unexpected loss of a loved one; (b) the loss of one's home through forced relocation; and (c) the loss of a parent when one is (was) a child.
  9. Discuss the social and psychological effects of "anticipatory socialization," "anticipatory coping," and "reality shock" on the process of aging and becoming old in America.
  10. The concept of disengagement often is used to describe what happens to many elderly upon retirement from their employment. Describe the social psychological meaning and corresponding effects of the concept. Include in your description and discussion effective (or ineffective) use of the construct among elderly from different ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to cope with and respond to the demands of their aged status and condition.
  11. Discuss the Freud-Piaget hypothesis, which assumes that inner structures are formed through a child's interactions with significant others and that through the evolution of inadequate coping capacities social dysfunction and inadequate interactions occur. The net result is that the child learns to deal with life's problems and stressful demands in very inefficient and ineffective ways.
  12. Concentration camp experiences are often, if not always, portrayed as harrowing, severely debilitating, dehumanizing, and demoralizing. Reports and analyses by Bettleheim, Frankl, Dimsdale and many other scholars point to the fact that certain people survived the experiences against what might be perceived as overwhelming odds. The phrase, "How did anyone keep going and survive such conditions where the stress, the horror, and cry of despair over loss were constant?" keeps haunting many people whether they are scholars or not. Respond to the question and provide examples of the different kinds of coping and adaptation strategies used by the surviving prisoners of concentration camp experiences.
  13. Human-made and natural disasters are timely subjects these days. Many people are drastically and permanently affected by the experience of the disaster. Some perish while others survive. Discuss the various coping strategies used by people when responding to a disaster. Are the coping strategies transferable from one disaster type to another such tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, oil spills, landslides, avalanches, etc.? Include a discussion of the variability of coping strategies as they relate to specific disasters.
  14. The scientific investigation of coping and adaptation presents a number of interesting and challenging problems. Identify and discuss some of the problems as they relate to: (a) laboratory research; (b) controlled field study; and (c) naturalistic and participant observation.
  15. Migration, whether internal or external, is an increasingly occurring social and demographic phenomenon. Like clothing in a fire, some are consumed while others survive the aftermath of abrupt forced migration. But migration can be voluntary, too, and thus the consequences and aftermath can be different from the involuntary, forced form. Discuss migration types and the relative influence of adapting and coping strategies on social and psychological adjustment when one faces new environments.
  16. The psychologist, Richard Lazarus argues that" stress cannot be defined exclusively by situations because the capacity of any situation to produce stress reactions depends on characteristics of the individual." Discuss the statement and support your arguments with empirical and anecdotal evidence.
  17. Discuss the relative effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of self-pity as a coping strategy. Support your position with appropriate evidence.
  18. Stress is a formidable and expected by-product of combat and warfare. The individual is subjected to severe conditions of physical and psychological hardship (e.g., little food, sleep disorders, fatigue, fear for safety, unpredictable periods of arousal and boredom among many others). How did conditions in Vietnam, for example, make the experiences of combat different that that of other wars such as the Korean War or Gulf War? How were the combat conditions similar ( and/or different) for the soldier? What strategies are typically evoked to deal with the stress and how might they differ from one combat situation to another?
  19. Robert White and others maintain that effective and functional adaptive strategies are closely related to levels of self-esteem "when self-esteem is tender." White specifically argues that self-esteem is challenged "when the situation is strongly challenging such questions as 'What sort of impression am I making?', 'How well am I dealing with this?', 'What kind of a person am I showing myself to be?'" Such questions even if only vaguely felt can lead to anxiety, shame, or guilt with the potential threat of further disorganization. Discuss this position in light of our readings and your thoughts on the topic. Support your position and points with appropriate evidence.
  20. Discuss the concepts, separation, assimilation, affirmation, social norms, and frame of reference as they relate to the process of entering a new social institution. In your discussion include as examples: (1) the transitions of ethnic-minority students from their home neighborhoods to an integrated academic institution; and (2) your perceived or actual reaction to the process experienced by ethnic-minorities.
  21. Critically analyze and discuss the concept of adaptation as seen and conceptualized by: (1) a staunch sociobiologist; (2) an evolutionary psychologist; (3) a behavioral geneticist; (4) an ethologist; (5) a social Darwinist; and (5) a clinical psychologist.