Masters Thesis

An Exploration of the Effects of Physical Exercise, Social Support and Alcohol Use on Police Officers' Experience and Perception of Stress

This study investigated the relationship between experienced stress and perceptions of stress in law enforcement officers; whether or not physical exercise, social support, and alcohol use serve as moderating variables between experiences of stress and perceptions of stress; and whether simply asking about stress primes officers to feel more stressed out. Previous research has shown a discrepancy between officers’ experience of stress and their reported perception of stress suggested that this discrepancy might be explained by coping mechanisms. Additionally, previous research has indicated that engaging in particular coping mechanisms may increase the salience of stress. Data were collected from 30 active duty law enforcement officers who ranged in age from 22 to 61 (M = 42.3, SD = 11) and were mostly white, college-educated, and male. Three separate Pearson’s r correlations found no significant relationships between coping mechanisms and perceived stress. Three separate multiple regressions were conducted with experienced stress and each coping mechanism as independent variables and perceived stress as the dependent variable. the models including physical exercise and alcohol use were significant, with experienced stress as the only significant predictor for both models. Additionally, a paired samples t-test comparing pre- and post-survey stress levels resulted in findings that were inconsistent with what might be expected based on prior research. Limitations and directions for future research implementing community based participatory research in law enforcement populations are discussed.

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