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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Participation in adult learning activities and the relationship between social stress and health Blunt, Adrian


The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between stress, participation in learning activities and health to test the proposition that active learners maintain their health in stressful environments while non-active learners in stressful environments experience decrements in health. A randomly, selected sample of adults between eighteen and sixty-five years of age was selected from a population of patients who had sought health care from a family physician. The study used a panel design with two data collection periods approximately nine months apart. A total of 26 3 patients completed the first interview and 226 completed the final interview. Ten theoretical propositions derived from a review of related literature were incorporated into a model with proposed causal paths and was tested using path analysis procedures. The theoretical propositions posited that: (1) high social stress would be associated with low levels of health functioning and with decrements in health over time; (2) participation in learning would be influenced by social stress; (3) participation in learning would be associated with high levels- of health functioning and with improvements in levels of health over time; (4) subjective stress would be associated with levels of social stress and the decision to engage in learning activities; (5) perceived stress would influence levels of health functioning and the decision to engage in learning activities. Additionally participation in learning activities would be affected by: (6) generalized expectancy for control over the social environment; (7) personality; (8) attitudes toward adult education; (9) age, sex, income and years of schooling and (10) participation in formal social organizations would be associated with levels of health functioning. Health status was quantified by a scale which assessed health from the perspective of a person's ability to function socially and in his or her regular employment. Additional health data gathered included severity of illness, health change, number of visits to the physician's office and number of days spent in hospital. Five measures of stress were used in the study with social stress being quantified by the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, a scale consisting of 43 life events which demand social readjustments on the part of an individual when experienced. Participation in learning activities and attitude towards adult education were quantified by scales developed for use in this study. Factor analyses were conducted to test the construct validity of the health and stress variables and the results obtained provided strong support for the validity of each of the variables as individual measures of the constructs of health and stress. To test the validity of the learning activity and attitude towards adult education scales the scale scores were correlated with five criterion variables. Collectively, the observed inter-correlations supported the validity of the two scales. Hoyt reliability coefficients were calculated for each of the seven psycho-metric scales used in the study and the coefficients obtained ranging from .69 to .87 indicated acceptable levels of reliability for those study instruments. The results of a series of path analyses were examined to determine whether or not each of the ten theoretical propositions could be supported on the basis of the path coefficients obtained. Overall, the hypothesized relationships between the stress and health variables, and the socio-demographic variables and participation in learning activities were confirmed. The analyses provided no evidence to support the propositions that participation in learning activities was influenced by levels of subjective stress, perceived stress, or locus of control. One unexpected finding was that participation in formal social organizations had decremental effects upon health although it was positively associated with participation in learning. Modest support was obtained from the analyses for the proposition that participation in learning activities promotes levels of future health although no effect of participation in learning activity upon health change was observable.

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