BESC1121 – Principles of Psychology

Influence of Neuroticism and Social Connectedness on Student Stress: A Psychological Approach

Abstract

Academic stress is a major, multifactorial concern among college students, affecting their academic performance and mental wellbeing. Student stress can be influenced by several factors, including psychological aspects such as social connectedness and personality traits. Previous literature suggested possible association among social connectedness, personality traits – especially neuroticism, and student stress, yet evidence remained limited and inconsistent. Thus, this paper aimed to examine two hypotheses that 1) high social connectedness among college students is associated with a lower level of academic stress, and that 2) individuals with low neuroticism will experience a lower level of academic stress. To test for these hypotheses, data of 410 students studying in RMIT University were collected via questionnaires completion for analysis using the Statistical Package for the Social Science program (SPSS). Results indicated that students who were less socially connected would experience higher level of stress (r(410) = -.33, p < .001), and that students with high level of neuroticism would express higher level of stress (r(410) = .37, p < .001). The findings were aligned with previous literature, confirming the proposed hypotheses. Future research should focus on addressing generalizability of these findings while promoting possible interventions to help with stress reduction among university community.

Introduction

Academic stress is a major, multifactorial concern among college students. Defined as psychological responses to stressors within the academic environment, academic stress could negatively affect performance and achievement (Pozos-Radillo et al., 2014), as well as progressive poor mental health (Dissing et al., 2019). Previous literature studied this issue focusing on different psychological aspects, including both social connectedness and personality traits, to promote optimal experience during undergraduate study.

Social connectedness is referred to as a sense of belongingness – the basis of mental wellbeing among humans (Pym et al., 2011). Thus, it was suggested as a protective factor against academic stress, with loneliness as a risk factor for depression development within college students (Schofield et al., 2016). In fact, it was suggested that perceived stress was associated with poor social functioning, such as peer withdrawal, poor emotional control, increased self-focus, and low maintenance of social relationships (Kupferberg et al., 2016). In addition, social connectedness was also suggested to positively impacted academic performance in college students, thus minimizing the level of stress experienced (Pym et al., 2011).

Personality traits were also considered a predictor for academic stress and achievement. Based on the Big Five factors – neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeability, conscientiousness, personality traits were reflected on daily behaviors, including academic performance (Poropat, 2009). Personalities could affect how a person reacts to stress, as suggested by several studies. For example, neuroticism was suggested to be a predictor for psychological problems including stress and anxiety, while other factors may have a protective effect against these issues (Alizadeh et al., 2018; Nouri et al., 2019). Personalities could also influence academic performance, as indicated by a study by Morris and Fritz, stating a positive relationship between conscientiousness and academic performance due to the nature of being organized and disciplined (Morris and Fritz, 2015), while neuroticism negatively affected performance (Hakimi et al., 2011; Ciorbea and Pasarica, 2013).

Despite intensive research, evidence regarding the association between personality traits, social connectedness, and academic stress and performance focusing on college students remained limited and inconsistent. On the one hand, most studies targeted a larger population rather than focusing on university communities. On the other hand, academic stress and performance were measured inconsistently, resulting in possible differences among findings. In addition, the role of different personality traits and social connectedness was not fully depicted in terms of academic development (Nechita et al., 2015). These limitations indicated a need for further research to confirm these proposed associations.

This study aimed to investigate the association between social connectedness, personality traits of neuroticism, and student stress among universities community. Based on current literature, the hypotheses were induced that 1) high social connectedness among college students is associated with a lower level of academic stress, and that 2) individuals with low neuroticism will experience a lower level of academic stress.

Methods

Participants

590 student participants studying at RMIT University were recruited for data collection. However, with inclusion criteria of being in the first year of university, only data of 410 individuals were included for analysis. Among these 410 individuals, 96 of them were males, contributing to 23.4% of total sample. The remaining 314 individuals were females, contributing to 76.6% of total sample. On average, participants shared a mean age of 20.16 years (SD = 4.73), ranging from 17 years old to 51 years old. Within this sample of 410 participants, 349 of them (85.1% of total sample) was pursuing Psychology as their major, while the remaining 61 participants (14.9% of total sample) was enrolled in other majors. Participation was voluntary, yet it formed the primary assessment for completion of course of Principles of Psychology.

Materials

An online questionnaire was provided for participants to complete. 6 questions were asked regarding their demographic information, including age, sex, classification/years of study at college, and majors of current degree. Another series of scales were listed to assess participants’ personality traits, social connectedness, and university stress.

The Social Connectedness Scale – Revised was utilized to measure social connectedness (Lee et al., 2001). The scale consisted of 20 items evaluating different aspects of social life to assess the level of social connectedness of individuals with their community and society. 20 statements were listed, such as “I feel comfortable in the presence of strangers”, which were then rated by participants using Likert scale, with 1 as strongly disagree and 6 as strongly agree.

The OCEANIC-BFI, standing for Openness, Conscientiousness Extraversion Agreeableness Neuroticism Index Condense, was adopted for assessment of participants’ personality traits (Schulze and Roberts, 2006). The scale consisted of 45 behavioral tendencies that participants had to self-evaluate using Likert scale, with 1 as never and 6 as always. The scale analyzed these tendencies using the Five-Factor Model to identify participants’ levels in each personality traits.

Finally, the University Stress Scale was used for stress measure (Stallman and Hurst, 2016). This scale was a 21-item scale identifying 21 different possible stressors affecting students’ experience at the university. Examples of these stressors included academic/coursework demands or university/college environment, and the stressors also covered other possibilities, both physical and mental issues. Participants could evaluate the impact of each stressor using a 4-point Likert scale, with 1 as not at all and 4 as constantly.

Procedure

Participants were recruited through convenient sampling. Inclusion criteria included first-year RMIT students enrolling in Principles of Psychology. Participants were required to complete an online survey with questions regarding social media use, academic performance, and wellbeing. Questionnaire was expected to be complete within 10 minutes, and participation was voluntary with privacy/confidentiality remained throughout the study. Questionnaire was provided within a certain time frame for completion, and data was then collected with analysis using the Statistical Package for the Social Science program (SPSS).

Results

Mean difference scores of student stress, neuroticism, and social connectedness were described under Table 1. On the one hand, the first hypothesis was induced that high social connectedness among college students is associated with a lower level of academic stress. Findings of this research indicated a significant, weak, negative correlation between social connectedness and student stress, with r(410) = -.33, p < .001. This suggested an inverse correlation between these two variables that students who were less socially connected would experience higher level of stress. On the other hand, it was predicted in the second hypothesis that individuals with low neuroticism will experience a lower level of academic stress. There was a significant, weak, positive correlation between neuroticism and student stress indicated, with r(410) = .37, p < .001. This suggested a direct correlation between these two variables that students with high level of neuroticism would express higher level of stress.

Discussion

This study aimed to test for hypotheses of 1) negative correlation between social connectedness and student stress, and 2) positive correlation between the trait of neuroticism and student stress. Results of data analysis supported the predicted hypotheses, which were aligned by previous literature. On the one hand, it was suggested that social connectedness was associated with less stress experienced in first year students. The result was supported by several studies, explaining that social connectedness had a protective effect against stress and other depressive symptoms, while stress was associated with poorer level of social functioning (Pym et al., 2011; Kupferberg et al., 2016; Schofield et al., 2016). On the other hand, the trait of neuroticism was suggested to be directly correlated with student stress, with higher level of neuroticism associated with higher level of stress. This finding aligned with previous literature as well, indicating neuroticism as a predictor for different psychological problems that negatively affected academic performance (Hakimi et al., 2011; Ciorbea and Pasarica, 2013; Alizadeh et al., 2018, Nouri et al., 2019).

However, there are certain limitations in this research, affecting its generalizability. First, convenience sampling of students within RMIT University created possibility for biases and errors. As described above, majority of participants were majoring in Psychology, indicating a possibility of response bias, since they could provide an answer in favor of the research. In addition, large proportions of students majoring in Psychology might over- or underrepresent the population, limit findings’ generalizability. For example, students studying other majors might have different experience with academic stress. However, the limitations certainly indicated future research opportunities, including random sampling with students from other majors for more comprehensive results. Further studies can also investigate the possible solutions towards proposed issue, promoting most applicable, evidence-based practice to reduce student stress.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this study suggested that social connectedness was negatively associated with student stress, while the trait of neuroticism was positively associated with student stress. The findings were aligned and supported by previous literature yet were limited by several possibilities of biases. Future research should focus on addressing these limitations while promoting possible interventions to help with stress reduction among university community.

 

Appendix I

  M SD
Student Stress 19.17 8.92
Neuroticism 19.12 3.83
Social Connectedness 83.50 15.43

Table 1: Mean difference scores for Student Stress, Neuroticism, and Conscientiousness

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