Wilderness Accidents as Complex Life Events in Cognitive, Social, and Recreational Life Domains: Application of a Stress-Coping Model
MetadataShow full item record
A wilderness accident can be an unfortunate outcome for outdoor recreationists participating in risk-related recreation or outdoor adventure pursuits. Some pursuits in certain environments or conditions increase the likelihood of accidents, but no individual—regardless of experience level—is immune to the possibility of an accident given inherent risks. Accident encompasses environmental and/or human factors that may be at play in the cause. Narratives from outdoor recreationists indicate a certain degree of emotional or psychological burden that results from both risk and the aftermath of accidents when they occur. Most scholarly inquiry aimed at understanding the impacts of risks and accidents has been directed toward recreationists participating at intense and extreme levels. Devotee hobbyists have indicated that risks and accidents constitute disappointments. A premise in this study is that wilderness accidents cause stress and may further constrain or influence behaviors regarding future participation in similar or related pursuits. The stress-coping model proposed by Lazarus and Folkman was used as a theoretical guide for this study. The model includes influential personal and situational factors, stress appraisal, coping mechanisms, and short- and long-term outcomes. The stress-coping model has been suggested as useful for deepening an understanding of efforts made to negotiate in the face of leisure constraints. It has been used extensively in studies where conflicts in outdoor recreation settings were believed to cause stress to recreationists. In this study, level of investment toward adventure recreation pursuits, proximity to the accident, and severity of the accident served as personal and situational factors within the model. They further represented constructs believed to influence coping strategies and the likelihood of return to participation post-accident. Level of investment was an umbrella term used to take into consideration behavioral and attitudinal characteristics often associated with the concepts of Serious Leisure and Recreation Specialization. Level of investment includes the degree in which a particular outdoor adventure activity or set of activities has become a central life interest. The term accounts for other characteristics associated with involvement like commitment, identification, experience, skills/training, and perceived rewards/motivations. Coping strategies are instrumental in determining short-term outcomes and are further associated with long-term outcomes like quality of life. In-depth interviews were used to gain informed knowledge about the impacts of wilderness accidents among recreationists. Results from the interviews were used to provide a thorough understanding of the prevalence of stress, coping strategies, and outcomes to recreationists based on wilderness accident exposure. This study relied heavily on theoretical and purposive sampling to ensure that a wide range of experience levels were considered. Proximity to and severity of the accident, in addition to level of investment, were used as factors of comparison in the analyses. Coping mechanisms revealed in the data analyses were compared to the more prevalent forms of coping functions identified in previous studies in outdoor recreation as well as the emotion-focused and problem-focused measures in the Ways of Coping Questionnaire (WOCQ). The WOCQ is a 66-item questionnaire that measures the processes individuals use to cope with internal and/or external demands of stressful encounters. The authors Lazarus and Folkman include eight categories or scales within the WOCQ.
McMahan, Kelli (2015). Wilderness Accidents as Complex Life Events in Cognitive, Social, and Recreational Life Domains: Application of a Stress-Coping Model. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from