Hardiness: Thriving in the Face of Adversity

Some individuals do not experience illness or psychological distress when exposed to adverse life events and hassles. Although they may experience brief distress, they generally recover (Lehrer, 2021). Researchers use the concept of hardiness to explain these outliers (Maddi, 2017; Maddi et al., 2017; Pitts et al., 2016; Stoppelbein et al., 2017). Graphic © lassedesignen/Shutterstock.com.


The hardiness concept emerged from a 12-year study of manager stress responses at the Illinois Bell Company (Maddi, 1987). Halfway through the study, their parent company's reorganization eliminated half their employees within a year. Two-thirds of the managers experienced severe stress reactions (e.g., heart attacks, depression, and suicide), and one-third thrived. The investigators concluded that the hardy managers were protected by attitudes of commitment (strong involvement), control (internal locus of control), and challenge (learning from experience and accepting change).

Hardiness involves biological (McVicar et al., 2014; Parkash et al., 2017) and social factors (Kuzman & Konopak, 2016). Longitudinal studies suggest that infants' autonomic and emotional reactivity predicts later emotional reactivity (Berry et al., 2012; Wagner et al., 2017). Less reactive infants may become more resilient. In addition, cohesiveness and social support (actual and perceived) may buffer hardy individuals against stressors. Graphic © Nina Buday/Shutterstock.com.

Less reactive infants may become more resilient

Summary Hardiness consists of biological and social components. Longitudinal studies suggest that infants' autonomic and emotional reactivity predicts later emotional reactivity. Learn More

References Berry, D., Blair, C., Willoughby, M., & Granger, D. A. (2012). Salivary alpha-amylase and cortisol in infancy and toddlerhood: Direct and indirect relations with executive functioning and academic ability in childhood. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(10), 1700–1711. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.03.002 Kuzmin, M. Y., & Konopak, I. A. (2016). Distinctive features of adolescent hardiness in families of different composition. Psychology in Russia: State of the Art, 9(3), 95–10. https://doi.org/10.11621/pir.2016.0306 Lehrer, P. M. (2021). Psychophysiological and systems perspective. In P. M. Lehrer & R. L. Woolfolk (Eds.), Principles and practice of stress management (4th ed.). The Guilford Press. Maddi, S. R. (1987). Hardiness training at Illinois Bell Telephone. In J. P. Opatz (Ed.), Health promotion evaluation, pp. 101-1115. National Wellness Institute. Maddi, S. R. (2017). Hardiness as a pathway to resilience under stress. In U. Kumar (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of psychosocial resilience (pp. 104–110). Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Maddi, S. R., Matthews, M. D., Kelly, D. R., Villarreal, B. J., Gundersen, K. K., & Savino, S. C. (2017). The continuing role of hardiness and grit on performance and retention in West Point cadets. Military Psychology, 29(5), 355–358. https://doi.org/10.1037/mil0000145

McVicar, A., Ravalier, J. M., & Greenwood, C. (2014). Biology of stress revisited: Intracellular mechanisms and the conceptualization of stress. Stress and Health, 30(4), 272–279. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2508 Parkash, V., Archana, & Kumar, U. (2017). Role of genetics and temperament in resilience. In U. Kumar (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of psychosocial resilience (pp. 75–87). Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Pitts, B. L., Safer, M. A., Russell, D. W., & Castro-Chapman, P. L. (2016). Effects of hardiness and years of military service on post-traumatic stress symptoms in U.S. Army medics. Military Psychology, 28(4), 278–284. https://doi.org/10.1037/mil0000106

Stoppelbein, L., McRae, E., & Greening, L. (2017). A longitudinal study of hardiness as a buffer for posttraumatic stress symptoms in mothers of children with cancer. Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology, 5(2), 149–160. Wagner, N., Mills-Koonce, R., Willoughby, M., Propper, C., Rehder, P., & Gueron-Sela, N. (2017). Respiratory sinus arrhythmia and heart period in infancy as correlates of later oppositional defiant and callous–unemotional behaviors. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 41(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0165025415605391

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