Change in coping and defense mechanisms across adulthood: longitudinal findings in a European American sample
Diehl, M and Chui, H and Hay, EL and Lumley, MA and Gruhn, D and Labouvie-Vief, G, Change in coping and defense mechanisms across adulthood: longitudinal findings in a European American sample, Developmental Psychology, 50, (2) pp. 634-648. ISSN 0012-1649 (2014) [Refereed Article]
This study examined longitudinal changes in coping and defense mechanisms in an age- and gender-stratified sample of 392 European American adults. Nonlinear age-related changes were found for the coping mechanisms of sublimation and suppression and the defense mechanisms of intellectualization, doubt, displacement, and regression. The change trajectories for sublimation and suppression showed that their use increased from adolescence to late middle age and early old age and remained mostly stable into late old age. The change trajectory for intellectualization showed that the use of this defense mechanism increased from adolescence to middle age, remained stable until late midlife, and started to decline thereafter. The defense mechanisms of doubt, displacement, and regression showed decreases from adolescence until early old age, with increases occurring again after the age of 65. Linear age-related decreases were found for the coping mechanism of ego regression and the defense mechanisms of isolation and rationalization. Gender and socioeconomic status were associated with the mean levels of several coping and defense mechanisms but did not moderate age-related changes. Increases in ego level were associated with increased use of the defense mechanism intellectualization and decreased use of the defense mechanisms of doubt and displacement. Overall, these findings in a European American sample suggest that most individuals showed development in the direction of more adaptive and less maladaptive coping and defense strategies from adolescence until late middle age or early old age. However, in late old age this development was reversed, presenting potential challenges to the adaptive capacity of older adults.