Role of cognitive shift in resilient adaptation to difficult events

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Sometimes difficult life events challenge our existing resources in such a way that routinized responses are inadequate to handle the challenge. Some individuals will persist in habitual, automatic behavior, regardless

Sometimes difficult life events challenge our existing resources in such a way that routinized responses are inadequate to handle the challenge. Some individuals will persist in habitual, automatic behavior, regardless of environmental cues that indicate a mismatch between coping strategy and the demands of the stressor. Other individuals will marshal adaptive resources to construct new courses of action and reconceptualize the problem, associated goals and/or values. A mixed methods approach was used to describe and operationalize cognitive shift, a relatively unexplored construct in existing literature. The study was conducted using secondary data from a parent multi-year cross-sectional study of resilience with eight hundred mid-aged adults from the Phoenix metro area. Semi-structured telephone interviews were analyzed using a purposive sample (n=136) chosen by type of life event. Participants' beliefs, assumptions, and experiences were examined to understand how they shaped adaptation to adversity. An adaptive mechanism, "cognitive shift," was theorized as the transition from automatic coping to effortful cognitive processes aimed at novel resolution of issues. Aims included understanding when and how cognitive shift emerges and manifests. Cognitive shift was scored as a binary variable and triangulated through correlational and logistic regression analyses. Interaction effects revealed that positive personality attributes influence cognitive shift most when people suffered early adversity. This finding indicates that a certain complexity, self-awareness and flexibility of mind may lead to a greater capacity to find meaning in adversity. This work bridges an acknowledged gap in literature and provides new insights into resilience.