The cost of coping – new research by psychologist Gary Evans shows coping techniques used in inhospitable environments can be detrimental when carried over to situations where they are unwarranted – Brief Article
Annie Murphy Paul
Human beings have an uncanny ability to adapt to inhospitable environments: cities with loud traffic, dirty air and crowded conditions, for example. But we may pay a price for that flexibility, says Gary Evans, Ph.D., of Cornell University. “The word ‘coping’ has come to have a positive connotation,” says the psychologist,”but coping brings bad stuff too.”
Our attempts to deal turn destructive when we “overgeneralize,” or continue to apply coping strategies even when they’re no longer needed. The strategies then become problems in themselves.
Children subjected to loud noise from a nearby airport, for instance, teach themselves to tune out sounds so they can concentrate. But that means they’re also screening out speech, and their lower reading scores show that they’re missing out on opportunities to learn the subtleties of language. Likewise, people who live in extremely crowded conditions learn to withdraw socially and to create internal space. This withdrawal eventually affects their personal relationships, however; research has found that the more people you live with, the less social support you have.
It’s better to cope than to fall apart, Evans concludes, but better yet to get rid of the problem itself.
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