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The relationship between pre-operative information and coping styles in children undergoing surgery.

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Susan M. Toler

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The present investigation addressed three major questions: (a) do children demonstrate patterns of stress coping which are similar to the repression/sensitization patterns found in the adult literature; (b) if these coping styles exist, do they affect the degree to which children are receptive to preoperative information; and (c) does coping style influence the extent to which children benefit from preoperative information? Sixty children between the ages of 6 and 10 who were about to undergo elective surgery were assigned to either a preoperative information treatment or a placebo control program. Self-report behavioral and physiological measures of children's distress were taken at significant stress points during hospitalization. Consistent coping styles were found within children, across self-report and behavioral measures. Children with "sensitizing" or approach patterns of coping recalled significantly more sensory information from preoperative preparation and interactions between treatment and cognitive style suggested that coping patterns influenced the extent to which children benefited from preoperative information. Treatment versus non-treatment differences which had been reported in earlier investigations were not observed; this was discussed in terms of inadequate placebo control groups in research on preoperative preparation. The concept of coping is discussed in social learning terms. There may be a hierarchy of varying cognitive and behavioral responses to stressful events, not a single coping style. Selection among these responses may be determined by the interaction of prior learning, immediate consequences, and the intensity or controllability of given stress situations.


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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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