Regulatory focus, coping strategies and symptoms of anxiety and depression: A comparison between Syrian refugees in Turkey and Germany

Karl-Andrew Woltin

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Civil war, flight, escape and expulsion are extremely stressful and assert a negative impact on refugees’ mental health. However scientific research about resilience and coping of refugees is scarce. Especially in the recent refugee crisis, calls have been made to consider factors contributing to coping and resilience in this vulnerable population. Therefore, the current research sought to investigate individual differences that could serve as antecedents of coping and contextual factors that might moderate these effects. Specifically, it took into account individual’s self-regulatory differences in terms of regulatory focus (i.e., a promotion focus on nurturance needs, ideals and gains vs. a prevention focus on security needs, oughts and losses). It furthermore explored contextual influences by considering Syrian refugees in Turkey (Sample 1, N=273) and Germany (Sample 2, N=169). Compared to Syrian refugees in Turkey, those in Germany had a stronger promotion focus. They also reported more problem-focused and less maladaptive coping, as well as less symptoms. Both promotion and prevention focus were positively related to problem-focused coping. Problem-focused coping, in turn, predicted more symptoms in Turkey but not in Germany. Furthermore, a stronger promotion focus was associated with less symptoms and maladaptive coping was associated with more symptoms in both samples. These results contribute to the coping literature in demonstrating that under certain conditions problem-focused coping can be maladaptive and extend the scarce previous work on self-regulation and coping. Most importantly, they highlight a promotion focus as a clear resilience factor and the role of maladaptive coping in increasing vulnerability. As such, they might inform the design of effective interventions among Syrian refugees and beyond.

© 2018, The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS One
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2018


  • regulatory focus
  • coping
  • refugees
  • mental wellbeing

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