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Conservation of resources theory
Primary author: Ashley Bozell
The Conservation of Resource (COR) Theory, first coined by Stevan Hobfoll in 1988, centralizes around a concept that human beings have been hindered by for ages: stress (Hobfoll, 2001). Hobfoll applies different processes to his theory to describe stress through loss, investments, gain, conservation, and trauma (Quick and Gavin, 2001). These underlying terms support Hobfoll’s theory as he explained that stress is an issue across time for all human beings, drawing support from biblical references such as Job. This is done through the loss and gain of resources for close-knit social groups such as a family or community. Public health is directly effected by the COR theory by postulating a model that utilizes both environmental and internal processes of an individual. As Quick and Gavin (2001) stated in their review of the COF, “the key function of the stress response is defense against loss, especially loss of life; it is the survival response at our physiological core”.
The COR is essentially a model to understand the process of stress. Especially recently, as the country has been in an economic downturn, resource-based theories of stress have received increased consideration (Hobfoll, 2001). The theory does however assume that individuals flourish when they protect, gain, maintain, and conserve resources (Hobfoll and Lilly, 1993). Hobfoll and Lilly (1993) also define resources as “valued things” that meet survival needs of an individual. There are four categories of resources that can be obtained by individuals. The first resources are objects, which include tangible material that physically help in the survival process. Secondly, a resource can be a condition, this may include things such as a healthy marriage or secure job. Thirdly, there are personal characteristics that can include mastery of skills. The final resource that can be gained or lost is energy. Energy can include resources such as money or insurance (Hobfoll and Lilly, 1993).
The COR theory outlines three different situations where stress can occur. To begin, stress will arise when an individual’s resources may be lost or are at risk of being lost. The second situation arises when an individuals resources are lost and finally stress can occur when an individual what has lost recourses fails to gain other resources through investments (Hobfoll and Lilly, 1993). In a study completed in 1999, Grandley and Cropanzano studied stress within a work and family conflict strain for professors using the COR theory. Grandley and Cropanzano found that with more resources, such as tenure, professors suffered less physical health problems. The study also found that these individuals with more resources were able to compartmentalize stress from work and family separately, which acted like a defense mechanism.
This analysis of the Resource Conservation Theory can lead more directly to public health issues. For instance, the above study concerning professors and resources directly ties into the video documentary “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” (PBS, 2008). The video outlines key issues concerning issues like chronic stress. According to the section “In Sickness and in Wealth”, chronic stress is more prevalent with lower income employees due to the fact that they lack the resources many high paying employees are given access. With this information, public health individuals are given an opportunity to create opportunities for lower paid employees. Motivation may be important in alleviating stress for lower income levels and possibly giving them the push to pull themselves out of near poverty levels. If a worker is motivated and working toward a goal, while seeing steady results, stress may not impact their lives as much. More studies however should focus on this theory to provide evidence of this phenomenon.
The addition of resources supports increased survival capabilities (Grandley and Cropanzano, 1999). The loss of resources increase the amount of stress an individual will experience while the gain of resources provides a reprieve of stress through the investment (Hobfoll, 2001). Public health professionals should use this theory in order to motivate lower class individuals. For example, these professionals can promote the investment of resources by providing classes for more personal characteristics gain. With this gain each individual will gain mastery that will lead to energy gain in the future
Grandey, A.A. and Cropanzano R. (1999)
The Conservation of Resources Model Applied to Work–Family Conflict and Strain. Colorado State University.
Journal of Vocational Behavior
Hobfoll, S.E. (2001) The Influence of Culture, Community, and the Nested-Self in the Stress Process:
Advancing Conservations Resource Theory. Kent State University.
Applied Psychology: An International
Hobfoll, S.E. and Lilly R.S. (1993) Resource Conservation as a Strategy for Community Psychology.
Kent State University.
Journal of Community Psychology
PBS. (2008) Unnatural Causes: Is inequality making us sick? (In sickness and in Wealth). Retrieved from
Quick, J.C. and Gavin, J.H. (2001) Four Perspectives on Conservation of Resources Theory:
A Commentary. The University of Texas.
International Association for Applied Psychology
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