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Vadim S. Rotenberg (1), Yan Zusman (2), A. Cholostoy (1), Y. Baruch
(1) 1-Abarbanel Mental Health Center, Bat-Yam, Israel, and 2 - Jewish Agency

Homeostasis, VOL. 44,NOVEMBER 2006, No. 3

E-mail: vadir @post.tau.ac.il

Behavioral attitudes and the duration of search for job in unemployed women -

Vadim S. Rotenberg, Yan Zusman, A. Cholostoy, Y Baruch - Homeostasis 44, 3, 2006 - Behavioral attitudes, reactions on frustration, and performance of nonverbal intellectual tasks (Raven's Progressive Matrices) have been investigated in 144 women - new immigrants in Israel with a strong desire to find a job relevant to their level of education. In comparison to the two control groups - women employed according to the level of education and women who make no efforts to find a job relevant to their level of education - the investigated group displayed higher search activity and lower chaotic activity In women who made no efforts to find a relevant job the level of passive behavior was less prominent but the level of chaotic behavior was higher than in women with major depression. Chaotic activity correlated positively with the duration of search for the relevant job and negatively with the ability to solve intellectual tasks (Raven), while the latter correlated positively with search activity.

Key words: behavioral attitudes; unemployment; search activity; chaotic behavior


Immigration is a hard life experience accompanied by psychological distress, which is higher among immigrants compared to the native population (Flaherty, Kohn and Gol-bin, 1986; Flaherty, Kohn, Golbin and Bitz, 1988; Ritsner, Ponizovsky, Chmelevsky, Zetser, Durst and Ginath, 1996). Although distress in general has a tendency to decrease with time after immigration (Sales, 1984), after a few years of visible adaptation it may display a second period of elevation associated with the exacerbation of family problems (Sluzki, 1979) or with the absence of the relevant job and a corresponding loss of social status.

Unemployment is one of the most important reasons of emotional distress that is positively related to financial strain and is more common among younger subjects and subjects with foreign background. In these subjects emotion-focused coping (i.e., self-blaming and wishful thinking) was positively related to emotional distress while problem-focused coping and cognitive restructuring were negatively associated with emotional distress (Grossi, 1999). It was also shown that female subjects made frequent use of emotion-focused coping, if exposed to high financial strain. Problem-focused coping was less frequent among subjects with a low education coupled with low financial strain (Grossi, 1999). In women emotion-focused coping as well as avoidance but not a problem-focused coping was related to higher anxiety/depression scores whereas reappraisal was related to lower anxiety/depression. Also in men avoidance was positively related to anxiety/depression (Smari, Arason, Hafsteinsson, Ingimarsson, 1997). Women who gave up in stressful conditions are especially vulnerable to unemployment (Starrin, Lars-son, 1987). Reemployment and mental health are partly determined by the dominating coping behavior (Wanberg, 1997). Job-searching behavior was associated with decreased mental health among individuals with low situational control but not among individuals with high situational control.

It was shown recently that job-search motivation increased reemployment although it did not affect reemployment quality while level of depressive symptoms decreased the extent and quality of reemployment. Financial strain in unemployment displayed a dual role: on the one hand it facilitated reemployment by increasing job-searching motivation and job-searching intensity but on the other hand inhibited it by increasing depressive symptoms (Vinokur, Schul, 2003).

In our previous investigation (Rotenberg, Kutsay and Venger, 2000) we have shown that 21.4% of the new emigrants to Israel from the former USSR display a moderate level of distress even 5 years after emigration. The level of distress is higher when subjects do not feel that they are integrated into new society and when subjects estimate the experience of immigration as negative. The level of distress in general was higher in women, especially in those who are employed on a job that is lower than their level of education so that their professional skills are underutilized and in those who claimed that their life crisis related to emigration is still in progress.

According to the search activity concept based on experimental and clinical investigations (Rotenberg, 1984; 1993; 2000; Rotenberg and Boucsein, 1993; Rotenberg, Sirota and Elizur, 1996) psycho-physiological adaptation to the environment depends on the subject's predominating behavior in stressful indefinite situations with unpredictable outcome to which immigration belongs. Such situations may induce one of four different types of behavior: 1. Search activity which is designed to change the situation or the subject's attitude to it, with uncertainty regarding the results of this activity, but with constant monitoring of the results at all stages of activity; 2. Stereotyped behavior which uses habitual skills and algorithms with predictable results; 3. Chaotic behavior which may seem to imitate search activity, however does not include monitoring of the results of activity. It is fraught with inadequate actions and finally often leads to renunciation of search; 4. Renunciation of search that manifests itself in reaction of surrender (giving up), helplessness and freezing (in animals). Search activity and stereotyped behavior both belong to the purposeful behavior and, according to this criterion, both of them are opposite to chaotic and passive behavior.

In our previous study we have shown (Rotenberg and Arshavsky, 1979; Rotenberg, 1984) that all forms of behavior which contain search activity increase the body's resistance to stress and deteriorating factors, while renunciation of search may lead to the development of mental (depression, anxiety) and psychosomatic disorders. It means that search activity is the essential component of coping behavior. The value of search activity lies in the process itself. It protects the individual's physical and psychological health regardless of the pragmatic outcome of the activity (Rotenberg, 1993).

While investigating different behavioral attitudes in the population of Russian-speaking new immigrants from the former USSR, we have found (Rotenberg, Kutsay and Venger, 2001) that women who are employed according to their level of education display a higher level of stereotyped activity in comparison to women who are employed on a simple job not relevant to their level of education. The latter group displayed a nonsignificant tendency towards an increased chaotic behavior. In this context it is worth to stress that in women stereotyped behavior increased and chaotic behavior decreased in a linear manner from the subjective statement "Life crisis is still in progress" to the statements "Life crisis is almost finished" and "Crisis is finished totally" and finally to the statement "Life crisis never happened". In women the higher level of distress, in comparison to the lower level, is accompanied by the relatively reduced stereotyped behavior and search activity and by increased passive behavior (Rotenberg et al., 2001). In men this tendency was less prominent.

Of course, while discussing the relations between behavioral attitudes, adaptation to stressful environment, and mental health, it is necessary to take into account the contextual nature of stress and coping. The efficacy of the different styles of coping varies under different social and cultural conditions (Donnelly, 2002). Thus, for the Japan-born Japanese women - USA citizens - the more effective they perceived "active" strategies of coping the higher their psychological distress, whereas the more effective they perceived passive strategies, the lower their psychological distress. In contrast, for the US-born Japanese women, the higher the perceived effectiveness of active strategies, the lower their psychological distress (Yoshihama, 2002). Most of the Russian-speaking emigrants in Israel belong to the Western-oriented society and culture with positive attitudes towards "active" strategies.

The goal of the present investigation was to investigate how the behavioral attitudes and some other psychological variables (like reaction to frustration and nonverbal intellectual skills) are related to the ability to search successfully for an appropriate job in jobless new immigrants. Taking into consideration the abovementioned data that women are especially sensitive to the absence of the professional job, we have performed the present investigation only in women.

As it is well known and was confirmed in our previous investigation (Rotenberg and Korosteleva, 1990) the tendency to overcome obstacles on the Rosenzweig reaction-on-frustration test (Rosenzweig, 1935) is the most adaptive reaction to frustration and prevents subjects from giving up when facing failures, while fixation on obstacles is maladaptive and characterizes patients with psychosomatic disorders. Thus, our preliminary hypothesis was that the duration of search for job will correlate positively with maladaptive behavioral attitudes (chaotic*behavior and renunciation of search, Rotenberg, 1984; Rotenberg and Boucsein, 1993) as well as with the fixation on obstacles, and negatively with search activity and intellectual skills.



We have investigated 144 women with the mean age 38.6 (SD= 7.9). All participants were highly educated Russian-speaking new immigrants either unemployed or employed, but not according to their education. The absence of mental and somatic diseases was the obligatory criterion for the participation in this investigation. The second criterion was the subject's strong desire to find a relevant professional job. Thus, women were frustrated by their professional unemployment and motivated to improve this situation. This motivation was confirmed by the fact that all women applied to one of the authors (psychologist Y. Z.) in order to participate in the support groups. The topic of these support groups was the development of psychological skills for finding job. Women were continuously searching for the relevant jobs while participating in these groups.

A long-term effect of such job-searching workshops was already shown (increased level of reemployment, lower levels of depressive symptoms) (Vinokur, Schul, Vuori, Price, 2000).

According to the aim of the present investigation, we have separated a subgroup of 24 women who were successful in finding a job relevant to their education in the recent 2 years after joining our supportive program. The duration of search for the appropriate job was measured as the number of months that passed from the start of our supportive program until finding of such a job.

As control groups for behavioral attitudes we have used 2 groups of women: A. 44 women (mean age 39.3) who are working according to the level of their education; B. 32 women (mean age 37.5) who are working not according to their level of education, but who, however, do not apply for psychological support in order to change job. Taking into consideration findings (Vinokur and Schul, 2003) that depression may block reemployment, we have compared, according to behavioral attitudes, our experimental and control groups to the group of 16 Russian-speaking women with major depression.


Before starting group sessions, participants were asked to complete Behavioral Attitudes and Search Evaluation test (BASE), the Rosenzweig reaction-on-frustration test and the Raven's Progressive Matrices test on the nonverbal intellectual skills and abstract reasoning ability that is recognized as a best measure of the general factor underlying all cognitive abilities (Court, 1983). The test BASE was explained in detail in our previous publications (see Venger, Rotenberg and Desiatnikov, 1996). This test was developed using principles of both projective test and personality questionnaires.

Test BASE includes descriptions of 16 open situations with four possible reactions on each of them. The tested subject has to choose two reactions on each situation: the most appropriate from his/her point of view and the least appropriate. The preferences of the subject provide an opportunity for quantitative measurement of each of the following behavioral attitudes:

1. Search activity(SA); 2. Stereotyped behavior (St); 3. Chaotic behavior (Ch); 4. Passive behavior (renunciation of search) (P). The total score on each of four scales can be from -16 (if the corresponding answer is negatively chosen in all 16 situations) to +16 (if the answer is positively chosen in all 16 situations).

The test situations are indefinite enough to give no formal advantages for any one of these four behavioral reactions. That could guarantee that the behavior chosen by a tested subject reflects his/her attitudes to one or the other type of behavior rather than ethical preferences or social norms. To illustrate a general principle an example is presented:

A group of hikers went to a cavern unfamiliar to them. Just as they arrived inside the cavern, a landslide buried the exit. While discussing the situation, the following suggestions arouse:

A. I suggest searching for another exit. We '11 mark our way with small mounds of stones so that we might recognize the place we would once pass even by touch when our torches are out.

B. Of course, we must search for another exit! But we cannot waste our time for excessive precautions. Remember that we do not have food.

C. Let us wait till our friends find us. If we economize our strength, our poor provisions will be enough to maintain our lives while waiting.

D. I suggest trying to dig a passage through the landslide. This can take a lot of time, but at least we know that the exit is here and we don't know whether there is another exit elsewhere.

In this situation, the answer "A " corresponds to search activity because it suggests activity with unpredictable outcome, and fixation of all intermediate results (marking the way with stones). The answer "B" indicates chaotic tendency because it denies fixation of the results. The answer "C" reflects passive attitude because it does not suggest any type of activity. The answer "D" shows a tendency to stereotyped behavior: high level of activity in one direction without investigation of obstacle.

Test BASE was constructed by using the following procedure. The initial list of situations was presented to the group of healthy Russian-speaking subjects. The data of each situation were correlated to the total test score. This statistical method reveals those questions that most closely correspond to the general tendency revealed by the test. The relevant situations from the first version of the list were included into the final version. All other situations were either changed or substituted and then the entire experimental statistical procedure was repeated on another group of subjects. The Russian version of the BASE was validated on 165 Russian-speaking adolescents and 201 Russian-speaking adults.

Rosenzweig test (1935) estimates the subject's reaction to frustration. There are three groups of such reactions: extrapunitive, intrapunitive and impunitive, and every group includes desire to overcome obstacles vs. fixation on obstacles vs. fixation on self-defense.

In test of the Raven's Progressive Matrices (Raven, Court and Raven, 1980) subject has to complete a series of incomplete iconic figures of different level of complexity according to some logical principles that the subject has to extract from the presented figures.

Statistical analysis

We have used descriptive statistics and Pearson paired correlations. The significance of differences between groups was determined using the t-criterion. For the discussion we have used only correlations significant at the 0.01 level, and higher than 0.4.


Data on behavioral attitudes in experimental and both control groups are presented in Table 1. Search activity (SA) dominated in our experimental group and more than twice exceeded stereotyped activity (St) while chaotic activity (Ch) and passive behavior (P) were low. The difference between SA in the experimental group and in both control groups was significant (p<0.02). Ch in the experimental group was significantly lower than in groups A (p<0.05) and B (p<0.01) and lower than in depression (p<0.05). In women with major depression SA was lower and P higher than in experimental and in both control groups (p<0.01). At the same time Ch in depressed women and in control group A were similar while in control group B it displayed a tendency to be even higher than in depression.


Experimental Group

5.84 2.66

2.58 2.68

-3.68 2.55

-4.54 3.09

Control Group A

2.85 2.45

3.14 1.83

-1.55 3.18

-4.44 3.09

Control Group B

2.74 + 3.1

1.89 2.91

-0.67 3.56

-3.96 2.92

Depressed women

0.25 3.56

1.75 4.05

-1.93 3.87

-0.06 3.69

Table 1. Behavioral attitudes in experimental and control groups.

24 subjects found an appropriate job during the period of the supportive group activity.
The duration of the search for the appropriate job correlated positively with Ch (.642). At the same time Ch correlated negatively with Raven performance (-.401) while Raven performance correlated with SA (.445) and with the fixation on self-defense (ED.445).


Our initial hypothesis was confirmed only partly. The duration of search for the appropriate job correlates neither with the expression of passive behavior nor with any variables of the reaction on frustration, however it correlates with the attitude towards chaotic behavior. It means, the higher the chaotic activity the longer time it takes to find an appropriate job. Of course, this correlation does not allow by itself to make a definite conclusion according to the cause-and-effect relationships. However, proposition that chaotic activity may prevent a relevant employment looks reasonable especially by taking into consideration that chaotic activity correlates negatively with factor underlying cognitive abilities (Raven) which is quite important for finding job in intelligent professions.

In our experimental group of subjects highly motivated for finding a relevant job, attitude toward chaotic activity is lower than in both control groups. Interestingly, these control groups displayed opposite poles according to the satisfaction with job. Women of group A are employed according to the level of their education and are significantly less frustrated and distressed than women of group B who are employed on a job that is lower than their level of education (Roten-berg et al., 2001). However, both control groups have something in common: they contain subjects who do not make efforts to change their job conditions. For members of group A such efforts are not needed while members of group B presumably already stopped such efforts (it is necessary to take into consideration that members of both control groups are in Israel for a relatively long period - around 5 years, thus their job situation is a chronic one). It is possible to suggest that members of the experimental group are simply more mobilized when facing challenge (search for the appropriate job) in comparison to the control group A. That's why their search activity is higher and chaotic activity is lower than in the members of the control group A. This suggestion is partly confirmed also by the relatively lower level (nonsignificant) of stereotyped activity in the experimental group in comparison to the control group A (see Rotenberg et al., 2001). On the other hand, by taking into consideration the discovered relationship between the duration of search for job and chaotic activity in the experimental group, the highest level of chaotic activity in control group B members may be an outcome of increased frustration caused by the inappropriate job as well as a reason why they were unable to find an appropriate job. These relationships may produce a vicious circle. It corresponds to the results of the investigation cited in Introduction (Smari, Arason, Hafsteinsson, Ingimarsson, 1997). For women who are using emotion-focused coping instead of a problem-focused coping the former was related to higher anxiety. Members of control group B do not display a job-searching behavior so they are not using a problem-focused coping and chaotic behavior may accompany anxiety. According to Vinokur and Schul (2003) job-search motivation associated with depression may block reemployment. However, behavior attitudes in women of our control group B are very different from the behavioral attitudes of depressed women: their search activity was higher and renunciation of search lower than in depression, while their chaotic activity was significantly higher than in depression. Thus, according to the present investigation, chaotic behavior may prevent an appropriate employment even without behavioral attitudes typical for depression.

Although we did not find direct relationships between the duration of the search for job and the level of search activity according to BASE (presumably because in all members of this group the level of search activity was high), the latter may be in some indirect relationships with the former. First of all, women of the experimental group strongly motivated for finding an appropriate job in general display the highest level of search activity that more than twice exceeds stereotyped activity. At the same time, in healthy women who do not display stress search activity and stereotyped activity are almost on the same level (Rotenberg et al., 2001). Secondly, chaotic activity that presumably prevents an appropriate employment correlates negatively with mental productivity on Raven test, while search activity correlates with this variable positively. Interestingly, mental productivity correlates positively also with the fixation on self-defense according to Rosenzweig. Self defense may require a high mental flexibility.

The relations between behavioral attitudes and reaction on frustration is a topic that requires further investigation.


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