Positive Affect, Coping, and Student Engagement in Early Adolescence

Sacha Bliss, University of South Carolina


Fredrickson's (1998, 2001) Broaden and Build Theory hypothesizes that positive emotions broaden thinking, improve coping, and create continually 'building' upward spirals of improved social resources and increasing well-being. This study seeks to examine this hypothesis within a school context. Building on previous research, it was hypothesized that students who report experiencing more positive emotions will use more adaptive coping, which will result in a continually spiraling increase of social resources and positive student outcomes, as measured by student engagement. The sample included seven hundred and fifty-two 7th and 8th grade students from a Southeastern US middle school who completed self-report measures of affect, coping, and student engagement. Structural equation modeling was used to examine the relationships between self-reported positive affect Time 1, mediated by approach coping at Time 1, on emotional, behavioral, cognitive and contextual student engagement at Time 2 (five months later controlling for Time 1). No significant increases in student engagement at Time 2, above and beyond Time 1, as mediated by coping were found. Results did not provide support for the 'build' portion of Fredrickson's (1998, 2001) theory within the school context. Possible reasons for the non-significant findings and related implications for future research are discussed.