Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)

Degree In


First Advisor

Baller, Robert

First Committee Member

Heimer, Karen

Second Committee Member

Noonan, Mary


Agnew's (1985, 1992) General Strain Theory (GST) proposed that strain, the presence of negative events in one's life, is related to an individual's level of delinquent behavior. In particular, strains elicit a negative emotional response (most notably anger), creating a pressure within the individual to react or cope. Additionally, GST suggests that individuals who lack more conventional means to cope with negative life stressors will turn to delinquent coping mechanisms, such as retaliatory or escape-avoidance behaviors, to reduce the stress. The primary aim of this work is to test whether a proposed pro-social coping mechanism, cognitive coping (Agnew 1992, 2001, 2006), influences the strain-delinquency relationship; particularly whether the ability to cognitively cope reduces the use of deviant coping mechanisms. Utilizing data from the base year of the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS: 2002), this analysis will test whether encountering negative stimuli within the school setting is positively related to students' levels of delinquency. Further, it examines whether cognitive/problem-solving ability has a moderating effect on this relationship. Analysis indicate that when faced with similar levels of strain, individuals with higher cognitive coping abilities are less likely to resort to delinquent coping mechanisms. Arming students with tools to cognitively reinterpret the strains they encounter may lessen the occurrence of delinquent behaviors exhibited in schools (Pearlin 1989; Agnew 2006). Expanding knowledge of what factors negatively influence students, causing them to demonstrate delinquent behaviors in school, and avenues for handling these stressors may have widespread policy and curriculum implications.


cognitive coping, cognitive reinterpretation, delinquency, strain theory


iii, 40 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 35-40).


Copyright 2010 Michaela Siobhan McGivern

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Sociology Commons