Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Conservation of resources theory

Conservation of resources theory:
How does COR theory explain stress and how can it be used for stress management?


Case study

Billy is stressed at university because he is under pressure by his professors,[grammar?] he will fail the unit if he does not do well in the written assessment piece. Billy is feeling threatened that he will lose his self-esteem and self-confidence,[grammar?] this is causing him to feel stressed. In order to maintain his confidence, he decides to invest in his personal time and apply more effort to complete the assessment to a higher standard that himself and the professors are happy with. If he achieves this goal he can relieve himself from future stress and avoid a downward spiral.

This case study is an example of the use of conservation of resources theory (COR) and how we use resources to deflect or reduce stress[how?][explain?]. This chapter discusses the COR theory and how it is used as a motivation theory to explain the implications of stress. Due to the implications of stress the COR theory can also help understanding[grammar?] how individuals can manage stress in our everyday lives, either through work, school or personal experiences. This chapter also discusses the relevant[vague] theories that associate with the COR theory, how the theory has improved from other theorists and why it is more beneficial   than? in today’s understanding of stress and resources. To help understand the information provided there will also be quizzes and focus questions that will be helpful to remember and engage in.

Focus questions
  1. What is stress?
  2. What is Conservation and Resources Theory?
  3. What are resources?
  4. What are the different types of resources?
  5. Describe the basic tenets and describe each of them  This is not a question
  6. How can COR explain stress?
  7. How can COR be used for stress management?
  8. Other theories involved in the COR theory  This is not a question



Figure 1. The feeling and representation of 'stress'.

To understand how the conservation of resources theory (COR) can explain stress, we first need to define what is stress? “A stressor is any stimulus or condition that causes physiological or psychological arousal beyond what is necessary to accomplish the activity or to deal with the situation” (Franks, 1994) see Figure 1, as a display of stress. Another way of explaining stress is the something that is threatening towards homeostasis (balance of things), the uncomfortable feeling when a situation is threatened (Schneiderman, Ironson, & Siegel, 2005). Lazarus & Folkman (1984) addressed that these stress responses will often lead to stress coping mechanisms/responses in our biological nature (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). There are many types of stresses that can occur from traumatic stress, minor stress or social anxiety. With these stresses many individuals can also experience with other comorbidities such as depression and anxiety (Schneiderman, Ironson, & Siegel, 2005). COR theory explores the understandings of the causes of stress with resources and the coping strategies used to manage stress, with a differentiation than Lazarus & Folkman (1984).

Conservation of resources theory


COR theory can explain stress in 3 different ways/situations. For example, if resources are threatened such as losing self-esteem from gaining negative feedback from an employer this can lead to stress. When resources are lost, such as outside control situations (hobbies, families) that interrupt time to complete an assigned work task, can also cause stress. Thirdly, putting in effort with no gain, an example could be when an individual invests their time and energy into a project, however, is not appraised or recognised for their efforts.

What is conservation of resources theory?


Conservation of Resources (COR) theory by Hobfoll (1989), is a stress model that focuses the resources of our environment. This theory is classified as a motivation theory as the value of resources are objects/characteristics that help individuals towards achieving his or her goals (Halbesleben, Neveu, Paustian-Underdahl, & Westman, 2014). It is believed that resources are measurable on how valuable the resource is to an individual. There are 4 types of categories of resources these are objects, personal characteristics, conditions or energies (Hobfoll S. E., 1989). Object is described as anything physical and can have secondary values (dependent on expenses or rarity) e.g. house, car see figure 2. Condition resources is based on the environment or their role e.g. employment, superiority, partner. The personal characteristic resources are described as traits of an individual, these resources often help relieve stress e.g. self-efficacy, perspectives. Energies is the last type of resources where the main role of value is help aid other resources e.g. time, money (Hobfoll S. E., 1989). The COR theory is a comprehensive theory that also applies and follows sets of principles and corollaries (Hobfoll, 2001). The principles and key corollaries will be further discussed in the chapter in relation to understanding stress and ideologies of reducing stress.

The theory was originally sourced from an evolutionary perspective that gaining and conserving resources is essential for survival and societal needs,[grammar?] these resources can either be used in the present or is kept for the future (Hobfoll, Halbesleben, Neveu, & Westman, 2018). This theory explains the idea that stress is developed through when[awkward expression?], “(a) key resources are threatened with loss, (b) key resources are lost, or (c) when failing to gain key resources after a significant effort” (Hobfoll, Halbesleben, Neveu, & Westman, 2018). This development and attainment of key resources can also mean that stress challenges can be managed using left over resources or gaining resources (Hobfoll, Halbesleben, Neveu, & Westman, 2018). COR theory points out that stress is evolved from the elements/resources from life events, which can also influence the outcomes, for e.g. divorce or the events of getting fired from a job (Hobfoll, Halbesleben, Neveu, & Westman, 2018).

Figure 2. A house is an important value to an individual, it is an example of object resources.
table 2. 4 type of resources and examples
Type of Resource Examples
Objects House, Car, Jewellery
Personal Characteristics Self-esteem, self-confidence, social skills, optimism
Conditions employment, marriage, tenure
Energies time, money, credit, knowledge



There are two principles in which the COR theory follows. Principle 1 states that when an individual experience both resource loss and resource gain then, resource loss will have a greater impact (Hobfoll S. E., 2001). However, when resource is lost then the increase of importance in resources gain becomes prevalent (Hobfoll S. E., 2001). This principle suggests that individuals are motivated to avoid losing resources, as it can have a negative impact such as stress. For example, a teacher is being aggressive towards a student, the student may avoid communicating or engaging with the teacher as a way of limiting stress and losing further resources.

Principle 2 is based on the idea called ‘resource investment’. Resource investment is where an individual will use or invest in resources in order to protect, recover and gain further/other resources . An example would be putting in more effort to complete a task to make sure to get a pay rise. This may also be a contribution of a stress coping mechanism which will be discussed further in the chapter.


Case study 2

A research [missing something?] by Bentein, Guerrero, Jourdain & Chenevert (2017),[grammar?] wanted to investigate the use of occupational disidentification was a coping strategy method. The idea of investment of resources in this case occupational misidentification will help with poor admiration of the occupation, which can be a threat to one’s self-esteem (threat of resource loss) (Bentein, Guerrero, Jourdain, & Chenevert, 2017). Another idea of resource loss is when a social group is viewed negatively, others (employees) would invest in resources such as avoidance, to remove themselves from being in association to the stigma, this would perverse positive social identity (Bentein, Guerrero, Jourdain, & Chenevert, 2017). Through an investigation of surveys and interviews of 544 participants,[grammar?] in a health agency occupation, it [say what?] disidentification occurs when individuals want to avoid stress (Bentein, Guerrero, Jourdain, & Chenevert, 2017). This study found that cognitive and emotions (personal resources) that become exhausting, this is threatening and leads to a defensive strategy for protecting the other resources in this case stress and/or self-esteem (Bentein, Guerrero, Jourdain, & Chenevert, 2017).

There are a number of corollaries that developed from the COR theory, in which the predictions of stress occur.

  • Corollary 1: People with high resources would be more likely to invest those resources.
  • Corollary 2: A loss spiral will occur, in which individuals who lose resources then investments will be difficult.
  • Corollary 3: When individuals are faced with resource continuation of resource loss then any resource gains will become more important.
  • Corollary 4: Those who lose resources, will behave and become protective of the remaining resources.

Table of basic tenets in COR theory


[Provide more detail]

Table 1: Basic tenets of COR theory and it's[grammar?] description

Basic Tenet Description
Principle 1 “Resource loss is disproportionately more salient than resource gain” (Hobfoll, et al 2018).
Principle 2 People must invest resources to either protect, gain or recover from resources lost.
Corollary 1 Those with higher resources will get more gains, those with less resources will lose more resources.
Corollary 2 As loss of resources occurs then further loss of resources will happen.
Corollary 3 When resources are lost, the resource gains become more important.
Corollary 4 Limited/restricted resources will cause a defensive mechanism.



Test your knowledge on conservation of resources theory.

1 What are the 3 reasons for stress according to the COR theory?

Resources are threatened with loss, resources are lost, no gain from significant efforts.
Finding resources, resources are threatened with loss, no gain from significant efforts.
Stress occurs when significant effort gains resources, lack of time management, resources are threatened with loss.

2 What are the 4 types of resources?

Objects, personal characteristics, situations and efforts.
Objects, personal characteristics, money and social skills.
Objects, personal characteristics, conditions and energies.
Objects, personal characteristics, conditions and efforts.

3 True or false, time is a type of energy resource?


4 What type of resource does 'employment come after?

Personal Characteristics


[Provide more detail]

Maslow's hierarchy of needs


Conservation of resources theory relies on the concept of using resources, these resources can also be considered as needs[factual?]. In relation to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there is a similar concept in which needs are importance to achieve self-actualisation. According to Maslow, there are 5 hierarchical needs in which an individual will not meet needs of the second need unless the first has been met and so on (Upadhyaya, 2014). These 5 needs are physiological needs (water, food), safety needs (place to sleep, security), belongingness (love, affection), esteem needs (high level of respect) and self-actualisation (self-realisation and self-fulfilment) (Upadhyaya, 2014). However, there are limitations to this study such as needs must be met before continuing and needs cannot be measured. Not meeting these needs will ultimately lead to stress. This is also in relation to the COR theory as when resources/needs are lost or unable to achieve them individuals then stress occurs. Based on the concept that individuals seek please or success through needs, same goes for COR theory however, COR theory focuses on the ideas of what creates stress and the theory behind it rather than achievement of self-actualisation.

Lazarus and folkman


Lazarus & Folkman’s (1984) transactional model of stress and coping theory was one of the first to develop a concept of psychological stress.  “Psychological stress is a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being” . The first concept is appraisal, where a person evaluates situations that are significantly impacting one’s well-being and coping, where a person thinks or acts to manage those significance. The development of the stress theory Lazarus (as cited in Krohne, 2001) found that stress is a relational concept meaning the stress is the relationship the person and their environment. With this theory however, Lazarus theory is focused on a cognitive perspective of stress, says there are 3 types of stress harm (psychological damage), threat (anticipation of harm) and challenge (confidence) . With COR theory, stressed[spelling?] is caused by threats/loss of resources and not cognitive factors (perception) that create stress. The definition of stress emphasises on the term ‘environment’ however, it is more focused on an individual’s appraisals . This is a limitation as it does not provide explanation or more emphasise on the environments such as resources, which is what the COR theory enhances. Also, in theory means that individuals wait for a situation to occur to understand it as being stressful . With a focus on environmental and personal resources it can be useful to explain these missing factors in Lazarus’ & Folkman’s theory.

More focus questions!
  1. How does COR theory differentiate from Lazarus and Folkman?
  2. What was the main focus on Hobfoll's COR theory?
  3. What are the similarities between COR theory and Maslow's hierarchy of needs?

How can COR theory be used for stress management? (coping mechanisms)

  • Discuss stress management[say what?]
  • How it is used in the workplace?
  • What kind of strategies can we use from this theory to eliminate stress?

To explain how the COR theory can be used as stress management, Hobfoll (1989) theorised that the impact of personal resources in an individual can act as a resistance to stress (as cited in König, Debus, Häusler, Lendenmann, & Kleinmann, 2010). The corollaries and principles can help explain how individuals can manage stress as it demonstrates the impacts of resource losses and gains. Principle 2 explains how individuals will use their current resources to protect, gain or recover their resources, this can be thought of as a stress coping mechanism, as we can use other resources to deal with stressful challenges.

This can also help deal with stress by using an avoiding mechanism, to reduce losing further resources or help slow down time to regain resources. From case study 2 it explains that a way of managing stress when something is threatening, is by avoiding the situation or problem. This can mean stepping away from stressful circumstances such as intensity of work, it can also help regain resources such as self-esteem/self-identity. Through understanding how to use current resources to defend one’s self from challenging situations can be helpful for stress management.

Although loss of resources is stressful, by replacement or gaining new resources can counterbalance net loss (Hobfoll S. E., 1989)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. This could be a coping mechanism for stress, as excess resources that an individual has developed previously by used as a coping strategy e.g. positive mindset, wanting to seek help (Huffman, Culbertson, Wayment, & Irving, 2015). Individuals will also invest in resources to reduce losing further resources, to protect current resources or to gain more resources (Hobfoll, 1984). Investing in resources can help with recovery from the negative effects of any stresses or trauma, this can also be explained as resource replacement (Hall, Rattigan, Walter, & Hobfoll, 2006).  

When an individual is experiencing stress, they often have limited access to resources and therefore need to seek or rely on other resources to manage these stresses. Studies have highly investigated social support as an important resource to a person. Social support can lend or ‘replace’ resources that an individual has lost or are currently lacking for e.g. a place to sleep, money or positive self-esteem. Resource replacement also explains that social support can help individuals step away from stressful situations or circumstances in order to help regain/find new resources. Hobfoll (as cited in Halbesleban, 2006), explains that dealing with burnout and/or stress that social support is effective as it provides positive reinforcement on one’s self-esteem and reflection. Through an understanding of social support as a resource replacement through the COR theory, it can help with stress management in an organisational or educational setting.

Focus points
  1. Social support is a highly valued resource for dealing with stress because it help regain/gain resources for any loss resources e.g. shelter.
  2. Avoiding strategies[explain?] can occur as a form of stress management (according to corollary 4)
  3. Replacement of resources can help relieve stress
  4. Personal resources is an important category of resource to deal with stress, can help improve positive self-esteem.



Conservation of resources theory develops a concept that allows individuals to know how to use resources to deal with stress. Through the psychological strategies and principles/corollaries from the theory, it helps to understand how protecting one’s resources can mean saving ourselves from future stress. It is meaningful to note that social support is important to have as a resource to cope with stress, as it can allow individuals to gain resources e.g. positivity or shelter (place to stay). Based on other psychological theories, it can conclude [grammar?] that resources are a necessary need and is highly valued to an individual. COR theory is important to understand how resources influences an individual’s perceptions and environment. What can be taken from this is how people can learn to protect, prevent and gain resources that can help deal with stressful challenges. The COR theory should be focused on more throughout literature, researchers can investigate with clinical trials and observational studies to conclude what resources are necessary to prevent and cope with stress.

See also



Alvaro, C., Lyons, R. F., Warner, G., Hobfoll, S. E., Martens, P. J., Labonte, R., & Brown, R. E. (2010). Conservation of resources theory and research use in health systems. Implementation Science, 79. Retrieved from

Bentein, K., Guerrero, S., Jourdain, G., & Chenevert, D. (2017). Investigating occupational disidentification: a resouce loss perspective. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 530-546. doi:10.1108/JMP-01-2016-0015

Franks, B. (1994). What is Stress? Quest (00336297), 1-7. Retrieved from

Halbesleben, J. R. (2006). Sources of social support and burnout: A meta-analytic test of the conservation of resources model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 1134-1145. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.5.1134

Halbesleben, J. R., Neveu, J.-P., Paustian-Underdahl, S. C., & Westman, M. (2014). Getting to the "COR": Understanding the Role of Resouces in Conservation of Resources Theory. Journal of Management, 1334-1364. doi:10.1177/8755123308322270

Hall, B. J., Rattigan, S., Walter, K. H., & Hobfoll, S. E. (2006). Conservation of resources theory and trauma: An evaluation of new and existing principles. In B. J. Hall, S. Rattigan, K. H. Walter, & S. E. Hobfoll, tress and anxiety: Application to health, work place, community, and education (pp. 230-250). Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualizing stress. American Psychological Association, 513-524. doi:10.1037//0003-066x.44.3.513

Hobfoll, S. E. (2001). The Influence of Culture, Community, and the Nested-Self in the Stress Process: Advancing Conservation of Resources Theory. Applied Psychology, 337-421. doi:10.1111/1464-0597.00062

Hobfoll, S. E., Halbesleben, J., Neveu, J.-P., & Westman, M. (2018). Conservation of Resources in the Organizational Context: The Reality of Resources and Their Consequences. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behaviour, 103-128.

Huffman, A. H., Culbertson, S. S., Wayment, H. A., & Irving, L. H. (2015). Resource replacement and psycholoical well-being during unemployment: The role of family support. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 74-82. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2015.04.011

König, C. J., Debus, M. E., Häusler, S., Lendenmann, N., & Kleinmann, M. (2010). Occupational Self-Efficacy, Work Locus of Control and Communication as Moderators of the Job Insecurity-Job Performance Relationship. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 231-247. doi:10.1177/0143831X09358629

Krohne, H. W. (2001). Stress and Coping Theories. The International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15163-15170. doi:10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/03817-1

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal and coping. New York: Springer Pub. Co. .

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Appraisal and Coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2005). STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioural, and Biological Determinants. Annu Rev Clin Psychol, 607-628. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141

Upadhyaya, C. (2014). Application of the Maslow's hierarchy of need theory; impacts and implications on organizational culture, human resource and emplyee's[spelling?] performance. International Journal of Education and Management Studies, 353-356.