Brief Measures of Secondary Role and Intrapsychic Strains

Construct: Secondary Stressors

Description of Measure: Pearlin et al. (1990), in a widely cited publication, presented a stress and coping model of family caregiving which includes both primary stressors (e.g. actual caregiving tasks) and secondary strains. Secondary strains are “spillover” effects--e.g. ways in which being a caregiver can produce stress proliferation in other areas of life. Understanding these secondary strains can be important for clinicians and researchers. Pearlin and colleagues distinguish between two kinds of primary stressors: Secondary Role Strains and Secondary Intrapsychic Strains.

StressedThere are three domains of Secondary Role Strains: Family Conflict (three subscales, 12 items); Job-Caregiving Conflict (5 items); and Economic Strains (3 items). Items are rated on 4-point scales (e.g. Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree) without a specific time-frame, with Sample item (Job-Caregiving Conflict): “Phone calls about or from your (relative) interrupt you at work.” Alpha coefficients are all over .73 for these scales and all items. Normative data on each scale are provided from a large study of Alzheimer’s family caregivers (Pearlin et al., 1990). There are 6 domains of Secondary Intrapsychic Strains, 4 of which are provided in the Pearlin et al. article (1990): Role Captivity (3 items); Loss of Self (2 items); Caregiving Competence (4 items); and Perceived Gain (4 items); Note that some of these scales are shown in positive terms, and low scores (e.g. low perceived competence) are viewed as an indicator of strain. Alpha coefficients are over .74 for all of these scales. No specific time-frame is provided. Sample item (Loss of self): “How much have you lost a sense of who you are?” Response categories include 4-point rating scales from “Completely” to “Not at all.” Normative data on these 4 subscales are provided in the Pearlin et al. article. Additional measures of Secondary Intrapsychic Strains include Self Esteem (10 items, Rosenberg, available free online) and Mastery (7 items, Pearlin & Schooler, 1978), which have been published elsewhere.

These scales have been used extensively in caregiving research, providing substantial evidence for their construct validity (e.g. Pearlin et al., 1990, Zarit et al., 1998).


Pearlin, L. I., & Schooler, C. (1978). The structure of coping. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 2–15.

Rosenberg, Morris. (1965). Society and the Adolescent Self-Image. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Retrieved from:

Zarit, S. H., Stephens, M. A. P., Townsend, A., & Greene, R. (1998). Stress reduction for family caregivers: effects of adult day care use. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 53B, S267-S277.