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Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2004 Jan-Feb;26(1):50-8.

Social learning, affective state and passive coping in irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


The association between the use of passive coping strategies to deal with pain and reported levels of anxiety, depression, and parental reinforcement of illness behavior was examined in individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Individuals with IBS and IBD recruited primarily from outpatient clinics completed questionnaire measures of pain-coping (the Vanderbilt Pain Management Inventory, VPMI) as well as measures of anxiety and depression, parental reinforcement of illness behavior and physical symptoms. Factor analysis of the passive coping sub-scale of the VPMI indicated that it was comprised of two components corresponding to emotional and behavioral facets of passive coping. Higher levels of behavioral passive coping were associated with higher levels of parental reinforcement of illness behavior and higher levels of depression, but only amongst individuals with IBS. In contrast emotional passive coping was associated in both groups with higher levels of anxiety and depression (but not illness-related social learning). Different factors predict the use of emotional and behavioral passive coping strategies in IBS and IBD. It is suggested that illness-related social learning occurring during childhood influences the development of habitual illness behaviors and that, because of the more benign nature of symptoms in IBS, individuals with IBS may be more likely than individuals with IBD to revert to such habitual behaviors to cope with symptoms. The degree to which the emotional component of passive coping, associated with psychological distress in both groups, can be considered in terms of 'coping strategies', rather than markers of illness-related distress, is discussed.

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