Resilience – innate or acquired?

Hi everyone, and Happy New Year! I’m back after having a few weeks off blogging, and plan to stick to my schedule of 1 post a week in 2018 (usually posted on Thursdays, 4pm GMT).

To start off this year, I thought I’d talk about a concept in psychology which is being applied more to mental health – resilience. Whilst the idea of something being resilient probably isn’t new to you, you may not be aware of how people can be resilient, and what the benefits are of this personality trait.

In psychology, resilience means that someone is able to cope and adapt to difficult life events or stressful situations such as serious health problems or losing their job. It is therefore able to protect against negative outcomes of the stressful event and enable individuals to ‘bounce back’ quicker.

The protective factor model of resilience states that a protective factor such as social support, or self-esteem, interacts with the stressor to reduce negative outcomes such as anxiety or depression (O’Leary et al, 1998). People who have higher levels of social support are more likely to cope with stressful situations, with one study showing that social support moderated the effect of stress on depression scores (Pengilly & Dowd, 2000). Another well-studied protective factor is hardiness, which was identified by Kobasa in 1979. He compared personality traits in executives, and compared who did or did not get ill after stressful life events. He found that those who did not get ill showed more hardiness, which he defined as having a ‘commitment to self’ – an active participation in activities and the outside world; an ‘internal locus of control’ – the idea that you are in control of events that happen to you; and a sense of meaningfulness.

image from

As resilience has been shown to have several protective factors on stressful life events, there has been some debate about whether resilience can be taught to improve how people cope, and therefore improve their mental health. One study carried out in college students compared scores on stress levels between a control group and a group who received a resilience intervention (Steinhardt & Dolbier, 2008). The intervention focused on teaching problem solving, coping strategies and awareness of the different responses to stress. Participants in this group were also encouraged to take responsibility and self-leadership (actions coming from the self). Results showed that the group that took part in resilience training had higher resilience scores and scores of protective factors such as self-esteem. They also showed more effective coping strategies and lower scores on tests assessing depression and stress than the control group who did not receive the intervention. This effect was found with only 4 2-hour teaching sessions, showing that resilience can be taught in a relatively short space of time.

Several other studies have shown that resilience can be taught, something which is now gaining in popularity and can be applied to several populations from students to soldiers. Healthcare professionals are also taught resilience techniques as a way of coping with long term stress in emergency situations (McAllister & McKinnon, 2009).

There are some things you can try if you want to improve your resilience. Taking a break, using your support network, and looking after your physical health are all things which could improve how you cope with pressure or stressful situations. For more information on these tips and more, check out’s advice here.



O’Leary, V.E., 1998. Strength in the face of adversity: Individual and social thriving. Journal of Social issues54(2), pp.425-446.

Pengilly, J.W. and Dowd, E.T., 2000. Hardiness and social support as moderators of stress. Journal of clinical psychology56(6), pp.813-820.

Kobasa, S.C., 1979. Stressful life events, personality, and health: an inquiry into hardiness. Journal of personality and social psychology37(1), p.1.

Steinhardt, M. and Dolbier, C., 2008. Evaluation of a resilience intervention to enhance coping strategies and protective factors and decrease symptomatology. Journal of American college health56(4), pp.445-453.

McAllister, M. and McKinnon, J., 2009. The importance of teaching and learning resilience in the health disciplines: a critical review of the literature. Nurse education today29(4), pp.371-379.


How to stick to your New Year’s Resolutions

Hi everyone, I’m back after a bit of a break for Christmas with a post that’s pretty relevant to this time of year.. how to stick to your New Year’s resolutions. If you want to exercise more, or stop smoking, then look no further -this is the post for you.

When we write down our resolutions, we tend to picture ourselves in a few months time, and how happy/healthier we will feel. But year after year, we fail to accomplish these goals – stats have shown that as many as 80% of New Year’s resolutions remain incomplete. If you seem to fall into this category, then I’ve linked an excellent article above from the UK Mental Health Foundation about how to make goals that will work for you.

So once you’ve decided on your realistic goal, for example getting more exercise, how can you use psychology to predict your success? One well known model is social psychology is the Theory of Planned Behaviour, developed by Icek Azjen (1991). This theory aimed to improve the predictive abilities of previous theories by adding the influence of our behavioural intentions. The process of changing behaviours according to this model is shown in the flow chart below:


As you can see from this diagram, this theory distinguishes between 3 different types of beliefs: behavioural, normative, and control. So therefore, our intentions to change behaviour are influenced by:

  1. Our attitudes towards that behaviour e.g. ‘I believe that exercising more will benefit me.. exercising is a positive behaviour’
  2. Other people’s attitudes towards this behaviour (subjective norm) e.g. ‘My family think I should exercise more.. most people view exercise as a positive behaviour’
  3. Our perceived control beliefs about the behaviour e.g. ‘I know I will be able to make time for exercise if I try’.

These beliefs then impact our intention to change our behaviours – for example if we believe that exercising more will benefit us, something which others agree with, and we believe we will be able to carry out the behaviour successfully, then our intention to change will be stronger. Therefore, we will be more likely to change our behaviour and achieve our goal. Studies have shown that it is our perceived behavioural control which mainly improves the prediction of actually carrying out behaviours from the intention to change, and is mainly applied to health behaviours such as stopping smoking or drinking too much.

I hope you found this post useful and that it will help you achieve your resolutions this year – let’s lower that 80%!

Pro-social behaviour

Would you help a stranger if it looked like they were in trouble? What if there were lots of other people around, and you thought they would be better suited to help, or they just didn’t look that worried?

Most people would be certain that regardless of the circumstances, they’d help someone in need. But is this actually the case?

Pro-social behaviour is when someone actively tries to help someone else, motivated by egoism (to benefit them) or altruism (to benefit someone else).

Helping in emergencies

Helping (or not) depends on certain factors:

– noticing that something is wrong

– defining it as an emergency

– deciding whether or not to take personal responsibility

– deciding what type of help to give

– implementing the decision.

If any of the first 3 steps don’t happen, then the victim will not be helped.

Latané and Darley (1976) identified 3 processes which cause people not to help in social situations:

  1. Diffusion of responsibility: the more people present, the more people think that they don’t need to help, as someone else will.
  2. Pluralistic ignorance: if there is high ambiguity about the situation then bystanders feel more uncertainty, and are less likely to help. As each bystander hesitates, they ‘model’ passivity for the others.
  3. Evaluation apprehension: other people being present causes you to feel uneasy, as they will witness your intervention if you choose to help.

These researchers provided evidence for this theory in a study in which participants were sat in a room while they completed a questionnaire. White smoke then started coming into the room through a vent, and they observed what the participant would do if they were alone, with two passive confederates (actors who were told not to react) or three naive participants.

If the participant was alone, then about 75% reported the smoke after 4 minutes. However, if they were with the two passive confederates, only 10% reported the smoke. This shows the influence of others on our behaviour.

Why do some people help?

Several studies have shown that being in a good mood increases your likelihood of helping. Isen and Levin (1972) used a mood induction method of failing or succeeding at a task to make participants in a good or bad mood. A confederate then dropped their books nearby. They found that participants in a good mood were more likely to help than those in a bad mood, and suggested that this is because their attention is turned outwards so will notice if someone needs help.

There is also a certain personality trait which makes people more likely to help. Isen et al (1997) identified 4 personality variables which are high in people who show pro-social behaviour:

  1. Social responsibility
  2. Belief in a just world
  3. Empathy and concern with others’ welfare
  4. Self-efficacy – confidence that their actions will be successful.

I hope you found this post interesting, did it made you think about when you would help others? Leave me a comment and let me know!