Date of Award

December 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Marcellus M. Merritt

Committee Members

Raymond Fleming, Diane Reddy


Cardiovascular, Coping, Exercise, Perseverative Cognition, Physically Active Coping, Stress





Michelle R. Di Paolo

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2013

Under the Supervision of Professor Marcellus Merritt

The main aim of the current study is to assess if a relationship exists between self-selected coping styles and levels of perseverative cognition (PC). Recent pilot studies have revealed a relative distinction between the coping styles people choose when coping with stress, i.e., those that are physically active (PAC) like going for a walk, jogging, or lifting weights, and those that are physically passive (PPC) like reading a book or listening to music. Additionally, research has shown that high levels of PC (rumination, worry) can be deleterious to one's health due to causal links between PC and reduced positive mood, and in turn, intense, prolonged cardiovascular responding in cases of chronically poor coping (Brosschot, Gerin, & Thayer, 2006; Verkuil, Brosschot, de Beurs, & Thayer, 2009). The current study utilized a sample (n = 29) of men and women of all ethnic backgrounds and coping styles from a medium-sized, Midwestern University. Both PACs and PPCs completed a number of psychological assessments (e.g., RRS, PSWQ) and PACs were recruited for physiological, in-lab assessments where participants were randomly assigned to either walking on a treadmill or sitting quietly for 10 minutes after an anger-recall session. It was hypothesized that those who self-select PAC strategies will be lower on levels of PC, as well as a number of other psychosocial factors related to PC (e.g., depression), than those who self-select PPC. It was also hypothesized that those PACs who engaged in a form of physical activity (i.e., treadmill walking) following a stressor task would feel more positive and less negative affect than those who had to sit in a chair and that mood enhancement would be moderated by the PACs level of PC. T-tests support these hypotheses in that PACs scored significantly lower on PC than PPCs [t(386) = -3.46, p = .001] (M = 90.1, SD = 21) vs. (M = 97.9, SD = 23.3) as well as lower on important factors like depression and loneliness, but higher on traits of self-efficacy, striving towards a goal, and desire for control. It was found that walking on a treadmill produced significantly more positive affect than sitting in a chair and that PC moderated that effect for those who are high, [F (1, 3) = 5.497, p = .018,  = .716] but not low, in PC scores. These results highlight the powerful benefits of utilizing physical activity for those who self-select PAC on affective responding in the context of stress reactivity. These benefits are especially relevant for individuals who are PAC and have high levels of PC, and are relevant as a potential behavioral intervention for those who enjoy physical activity and have a need for effective coping strategies for enhanced positive health outcomes.