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Linking psychological capital and feedback-seeking behavior: feedback cognition as a mediator.

Crommelinck and Anseel (2013) asserted that performance feedback is a valuable resource for individuals in workplace and educational settings as it aids adaptation, learning, and performance. Individuals seek and gather feedback through various channels to understand their mistakes, refine their behavior, and reduce uncertainties (Dahling & Whitaker, 2016). An individual actively seeking valuable information from a supervisor or colleague to meet organizational needs and for personal development is referred to as feedback-seeking behavior (FSB; Ashford, Blatt, & VandeWalle, 2003; Ashford & Tsui, 1991). FSB is also a key part of proactive behavior in relation to learning and development (van der Rijt, Van den Bossche, van de Wiel, Segers, & Gijselaers, 2012). Individuals with a high (vs. low) level of FSB are more likely to attain goals, overcome obstacles, and achieve their desired performance (Cheng, Kuo, Lin, Lu, & Gales, 2014; Dahling, Chau, & O'Malley, 2012).

Researchers in the fields of positive psychology and positive organizational behavior have begun focusing on the antecedents and underlying mechanism of FSB. For instance, employees with high self-efficacy have been found to adopt both inquiry and monitoring behaviors to collect feedback, whereas employees with low self-efficacy do not (Linderbaum & Levy, 2010; Tayfur, 2012). However, researchers have paid little attention to psychological capital (PsyCap)--which is described as an individual positive psychological disposition or state that affects task performance and success in particular situations--and the role it plays in contributing to FSB. PsyCap includes four psychological capabilities (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007): hope (motivation to succeed and planning to achieve goals), optimism (expectations about succeeding now and in the future), self-efficacy (confidence in one's abilities to accomplish challenging tasks), and resilience (the ability to recover from failure to overcome adversity or risk). PsyCap has been found to have a positive effect on proactive behavior, strategies, and attitudes, such as organizational citizenship behavior, persistence, work efficiency, leadership satisfaction, psychological well-being, organizational commitment, and team creativity (Avey, Reichard, Luthans, & Mhatre, 2011; Newman, Ucbasaran, Zhu, & Hirst, 2014; Wu, 2015). Conversely, PsyCap has been found to be negatively correlated with undesirable employee behaviors, such as workplace deviance, and attitudes, such as cynicism, anxiety, job stress, and turnover intention (Avey et al., 2011).

Although the relationship between PsyCap and proactive behavior has been examined in the past, the effect of PsyCap on FSB and its underlying mechanism remains unclear. Thus, researchers have called for an investigation in regard to individual perceptions of value and cost mediators in this relationship (Tayfur, 2012; VandeWalle, Ganesan, Challagalla, & Brown, 2000). Little and Swayze (2015) demonstrated that employees with high PsyCap perceived positive value when interacting with their organization. Therefore, we examined the mediating effect of feedback cognition--that is, individual perceptions of value and cost--in the relationship between PsyCap and FSB. Our aim was to answer the key question of how PsyCap influences FSB both directly and indirectly in the Chinese context. Our findings will improve understanding of the relationship between PsyCap and FSB and also allow us to provide useful suggestions for enhancing the performance of employees and organizations.

Literature Review and Development of Hypotheses

Psychological Capital and Feedback-Seeking Behavior

Although the relationship between PsyCap and FSB remains unclear, researchers have suggested that employees with high PsyCap may be more likely to demonstrate FSB. For example, Chen (2013) reported that, in general, individuals with high levels of optimism and hope tended to remain resilient when they experienced unfavorable circumstances, and to exhibit proactive behavior. Further, Huang (2013) found that PsyCap was significantly and positively correlated with proactive behavior. In addition, several researchers have emphasized that self-efficacy, as one construct of PsyCap, is positively related to FSB (Anseel, Beatty, Shen, Lievens, & Sackett, 2015; Runhaar, Sanders, & Yang, 2010; Swann, Chang-Schneider, & Larsen McClarty, 2007). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Psychological capital will have a significantly positive impact on feedback-seeking behavior.

The Mediating Role of Perceived Value in the Relationship Between Psychological Capital and Feedback-Seeking Behavior

It is posited in expectancy theory (Vroom, 1964) that individuals' decision to perform a certain behavior is based on their estimation of the probability of whether the effort expended will result in a certain outcome, and the value that he/she places on that outcome. In other words, behavior is motivated by probability expectation. Therefore, we believe that cognitive appraisal and perception, especially in relation to value (VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997), will play a critical role in deciding whether to engage in FSB. Feedback seeking can serve as a useful cue for individuals to understand role expectations, regulate their behavior appropriately, and then improve their work performance (Ashford & Tsui, 1991). This increases the value of feedback seeking, which means it becomes a critical resource for the individual. Anseel et al. (2015) indicated that situational factors and individual differences may have a direct impact on perceived feedback value and, therefore, may also influence FSB.

PsyCap positively affects individuals' attitudes and behavior (Avey et al., 2011; Hakkak, Zarnegarian, Ebrahimi, & Heydari, 2015); thus, individuals who have high levels of hope and optimism are likely to generate plans and identify pathways that will enable them to identify which feedback-seeking information will be useful for plan implementation and goal achievement. Individuals with high self-efficacy make full use of such information and adjust their behavior accordingly (Sweetman, Luthans, Avey, & Luthans, 2011). In addition, high levels of resilience help these individuals to persevere when encountering obstacles to feedback seeking (Stajkovic & Luthans, 1998). Consequently, it is possible for individuals with high PsyCap to improve their performance and ultimately accomplish their goals. These individuals will make positive appraisals and also perceive high value in feedback seeking, which further contributes to increasing FSB. Conversely, it has been demonstrated that individuals with low self-efficacy or self-esteem may perceive lower value in relation to feedback seeking, because negative feedback may reduce their perceived self-worth; this, in turn, decreases FSB (Anseel et al., 2015). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 2: Perceived feedback value will mediate the relationship between psychological capital and feedback-seeking behavior.

The Mediating Role of Perceived Cost in the Relationship Between Psychological Capital and Feedback-Seeking Behavior

Perceived cost, which includes ego cost and self-presentation cost, is viewed as the primary factor in decision making in relation to FSB (Ashford, 1986). Ego cost is defined as individuals' fear of receiving negative feedback information that may damage their self-esteem and perceived self-worth (VandeWalle et al., 2000). There are three kinds of ego cost: (a) the potential cost of the effort required, (b) the potential cost of losing face, and (c) the potential cost of negative inference about the information-seeker's ability (VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997). Bandura (2012) asserted that ego cost also involves thoughts that preserve one's active self-image, self-efficacy, and core self-evaluation. Self-presentation cost refers to individuals' cost perception of displaying uncertainty and the need for help in front of others (VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997). Individuals avoid performing behaviors that may have an adverse effect on their self-image in order to maintain their self-respect and self-image (Ashford et al., 2003), but negative FSB may cause the information seeker to perceive that he or she is viewed as having low competency (Lu, Pan, & Cheng, 2011).

The value-cost framework (Ashford & Cummings, 1983) has become the primary theoretical model for the study of organizational FSB (Lu et al., 2011; Morrison & Vancouver, 2000). According to social exchange theory (Blau, 1964), when employees are deciding whether to perform FSB, they evaluate the potential benefits and costs. Employees usually pay a cognitive cost when they receive negative feedback from their supervisors (Ashford, 1989); thus, Fedor, Rensvold, and Adams (1992) pointed out that perceived cost (e.g., self presentation cost) tends to have a negative impact on FSB. Anseel et al. (2015) conducted a meta-analysis and showed that there is a passive correlation between employees' perceptions of cognitive cost and FSB. Further, psychological resources are affected by perceived cost. For example, individuals with high self-efficacy may not worry about the social risk of how they are perceived by others; therefore, they will have a low cost perception (N. Wang, Zhao, Zhou, & Shen, 2014). Further, Xie, Chu, and Wang (2012) reported that loyal employees will perceive a lower cost in relation to FSB and, consequently will achieve better performance, making them more willing than are less loyal employees to seek feedback from their supervisors. In addition, the relationship between leadership style and subordinates' FSB has been found to be fully mediated by employees' perceived cognitive value and cost (S. L. Wang & Peng, 2014). Thus, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Perceived feedback cost will mediate the relationship between psychological capital and feedback-seeking behavior.

The conceptual model is shown in Figure 1.


Participants and Procedure

Participants were students at four randomly selected universities in southern China. We distributed 300 questionnaires and received 215 valid responses (response rate = 71.7%). Of the respondents, 47.0% were men and 53.0% were women, and 69.8% were aged between 21 and 25 years and 30.2% were under 20 years of age. In regard to education, 46% were student cadres (i.e., assistants with university management work), and the participants' majors were administration (54.0%), engineering (28.8%), science (15.8%), and arts (1.4%).

Participants were informed that the survey results would be used for scientific research purposes only, and assured of the confidentiality of their responses. To avoid common method bias, we adopted a three-phase longitudinal survey method for data collection during one semester. At the beginning of the semester (Time 1), we assessed PsyCap. At Time 2 (2 months later), we assessed perceived value and perceived cost. At the end of the semester (Time 3; 2 months later), we assessed FSB.


As the scales were originally developed in English, we conducted a standard translation and back-translation procedure to ensure equivalence of the Chinese versions. Involved in the translation process were a bilingual scholar with a management background and undergraduate students with various majors, the latter of whom were asked to read through the items and comment on clarity of expression. Participants rated all variables using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (completely disagree) to 5 (completely agree), except for the Feedback-Seeking Behavior Scale (see below for scoring details).

Psychological capital. PsyCap was measured using a 20-item scale validated by Luthans, Avolio, Avey, and Norman (2007). Each of the four dimensions of the scale has five items: hope (e.g., "I'm passionate about learning"), self-efficacy (e.g., "I like challenging work tasks"), optimism (e.g., "I am very optimistic about the prospects of my major"), and resilience (e.g., "I can always face stress calmly"). Cronbach's a was .91 in this study.

Perceived value. We measured perceived value with five items from the Feedback-Seeking Value Scale (Ashford, 1986). A sample item is "Getting feedback about my performance will help me to do my job well." Cronbach's [alpha] was .74 in this study.

Perceived cost. Perceived cost was assessed using a seven-item measure developed by Fedor et al. (1992). A sample item is "If I inquire about my performance, others will tease me." Cronbach's a was .76 in this study.

Feedback-seeking behavior. We measured FSB using the Feedback-Seeking Behavior Scale (Ashford & Cummings, 1983), which was validated by VandeWalle et al. (2000). This scale contains two dimensions: effort in feedback seeking (four items, e.g., "The degree of effort expended in seeking feedback from colleagues"), for which items are rated on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (very low) to 4 (very high); and amount of feedback received (four items, e.g., "The amount of feedback received from supervisors"), for which items are rated on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (very little) to 4 (a lot). In this study, Cronbach's a were .78 and .73, respectively, for the two dimensions.

Control variables. Because previous researchers have pointed out that demographic variables may affect individuals' feedback cognition in relation to perceived value and perceived cost (e.g., Ashford, 1986; Choi, Moon, & Nae, 2014), we controlled for gender, age, university major, and education.

Data Analysis

We used SPSS version 21.0 and AMOS version 21.0 to analyze the data (Blunch, 2008). Prior to testing the hypotheses, descriptive statistics were computed to generate the means, standard deviations, and correlations for the study variables. We performed confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to examine the distinctiveness of the variables. To explore the relationships among PsyCap, perceived value, perceived cost, and FSB, structural equation modeling (SEM) was conducted because it allowed us to assess the relationships among the latent variables simultaneously, and to ensure statistical efficiency.


Confirmatory Factor Analysis

CFA results showed that the baseline five-factor model had the best fit indices, suggesting that this model supported the distinctiveness of the constructs (see Table 1).

Descriptive Statistics

The descriptive statistics and correlations among measurement variables (see Table 2) indicate that Cronbach's a for each variable ranged between .73 and .91; thus, the measures had high reliability. Furthermore, PsyCap was positively correlated with perceived value, effort in feedback seeking, and amount of feedback received, and negatively correlated with perceived cost. Finally, perceived value positively affected both effort in feedback seeking and amount of feedback received, whereas perceived cost was negatively correlated with these two variables.

Hypotheses Tests

We conducted SEM to test the three hypotheses. First, we tested the main effect of the independent variable (PsyCap) on the dependent variable (FSB; specifically, effort in feedback seeking and amount of feedback received). After controlling for the four demographic variables, the results showed that PsyCap had a positive influence on both effort in feedback seeking ([beta] = .36, p < .001) and amount of feedback received ([beta] = .34, p < .001); thus, Hypothesis 1 was supported.

Second, we tested the correlations between the independent variable and the mediators, and between the mediators and the dependent variable. Results showed that PsyCap was positively and significantly associated with perceived value ([beta] = .27,p < .01), and negatively and significantly correlated with perceived cost ([beta] = -.30, p < .01). In addition, perceived value had a significantly positive correlation with effort in feedback seeking ([beta] = .40, p < .01) and with amount of feedback received ([beta] = .50, p < .01). Further, perceived cost was significantly and negatively correlated with effort in feedback seeking (p = -.29, p < .05) and amount of feedback received ([beta] = -.34, p < .01).

Third, we examined the mediating effect of feedback cognition (perceived value and perceived cost) in the relationship between PsyCap and FSB. Following Judd and Kenny's (1981) recommendation, we tested the direct path from the independent variable to the dependent variable by controlling for the mediators of perceived value and perceived cost. Results (see Figure 2) showed nonsignificant direct relationships between PsyCap and effort in feedback seeking, and between PsyCap and amount of feedback received. Therefore, we can conclude that perceived value fully mediated the relationship between PsyCap and effort in feedback seeking, and between PsyCap and amount of feedback received. Likewise, perceived cost fully mediated the relationships between PsyCap and effort in feedback seeking, and between PsyCap and amount of feedback received. Therefore, Hypotheses 2 and 3 were supported.


We explored the link between PsyCap and FSB and the possible mediator of feedback cognition (perceived value and perceived cost) in this relationship. Results showed that PsyCap was strongly correlated with FSB and that the effect of PsyCap on FSB was mediated by feedback cognition. Specifically, students with high PsyCap engaged in FSB frequently and effectively, indicating that individuals with positive psychological resources are eager to receive feedback. In addition, the perception of value and cost fully mediated the relationship between PsyCap and FSB. That is, PsyCap influenced FSB in the perceived value-cost framework, such that students with high PsyCap were likely to recognize higher value and lower cost of engaging in more FSB.

Theoretical Implications

We have contributed to the literature in several ways by conducting this study. First, we showed that PsyCap was positively correlated with FSB. Past researchers have focused on the correlation between positive psychological propensities and FSB (Alicke & Sedikides, 2009; Linderbaum & Levy, 2010), and demonstrated that there is a relationship between PsyCap and proactive behavior (Avey, Luthans, & Youssef, 2010; Avey et al., 2011), but we did not locate any studies in which the relationship between PsyCap and FSB was examined. Thus, our results provide a perspective for identifying the underlying mechanism in the relationship between positive resources and proactive behavior. By taking this perspective we have enlarged the number of variables examined in this field (Avey et al., 2011), and enriched the positive psychology and positive organizational behavior literature.

Our finding of the presence of a mediating effect of feedback cognition in the relationship between PsyCap and FSB should encourage PsyCap researchers to further examine the process that underpins this relationship. Specifically, in the Chinese context, to our knowledge, no prior researchers had provided adequate evidence to explain the underlying psychological mechanism of the relationship between PsyCap and FSB.

Practical Implications

The first practical implication of our findings is that that individuals with high PsyCap display more FSB; thus, raising the level of PsyCap is essential to promote feedback seeking. Offering quality extended training and example demonstrations will instill confidence in employees about their ability to overcome difficulties and adverse circumstances, achieve goals, and maintain a positive state of mind.

Our second recommendation relates to the development of various modern information technologies and communication media (Brutus & Greguras, 2008) to protect individuals' privacy and promote increasing FSB frequency. Organizations can also focus on leadership training, whereby leaders learn over a period of time how to provide feedback to their subordinates using various methods. The objective of such feedback should be to help individuals to become aware of their performance and of ways to improve, which is consistent with feedback-seeking theory (Anseel et al., 2015; Ashford, 1986).

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

There are several limitations to this study. First, the questionnaire we used was verified by practice but it is still an indirect measure of the variables of interest. It would be optimal to utilize other methods to demonstrate the essence of the relationships that we discussed, such as a quasiexperiment, a true experiment, or field research. Second, the sample was limited to universities in southern China, which may affect the generalizability of the findings to other populations and countries. Therefore, future researchers could increase the sample size and select a more diversified sample from different institutions, or with different fields of study and expertise. Third, we focused on feedback cognition as a mediator in the PsyCap-FSB relationship. Future researchers could include more moderators and/or mediators, and incorporate outcome variables into theoretical models to gain a better understanding of FSB. 10.2224/sbp.6055


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South China University of Technology


South China University of Technology and Guangxi University


Jinan University

Yanfei Wang, College of Business Administration, South China University of Technology; Jie Mei, College of Business Administration, South China University of Technology, and College of Education, Guangxi University; Yu Zhu, College of Management, Jinan University.

This research was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71602075), Natural Science Foundation Program of Guangdong Province (408277493017), Humanities and Social Science Youth Foundation of the Ministry of Education (15YJC630197), and Soft Science Program of Guangdong Province (2014A070703021).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Yu Zhu, College of Management, Jinan University, Shipai, Guangzhou 510632, People's Republic of China. Email:

Caption: Figure 1. Theoretical model.

Caption: Figure 2. Results of SEM of the mediating role of feedback cognition.
Table 1. Results of Confirmatory Factor Analyses

Variable   [chi square]   df       [chi

EFM        1495.77        674    2.22
FFM         280.56        203    1.38
SFM         228.07         20   11.40

Variable   GFI   CFI   TLI   RMR   RMSEA

EFM        .74   .70   .67   .06    .08
FFM        .91   .95   .94   .04    .04
SFM        .81   .67   .54   .05    .22

Note. N = 215. EFM = eight-factor model: (1) hope, (2) self-
efficacy, (3) optimism, (4) resilience, (5) perceived value, (6)
perceived cost, (7) effort in feedback seeking, and (8) amount of
feedback received. FFM = five-factor model: (1) hope + self-efficacy
+ optimism + resilience, (2) perceived value, (3) perceived cost, (4)
effort in feedback seeking, and (5) amount of feedback received. SFM
= single-factor model: hope + self-efficacy +optimism + resilience +
perceived value + perceived cost + effort in feedback seeking +
amount of feedback received. GFI = goodness-of-fit index, CFI =
comparative fit index, TLI = Tucker-Lewis index, RMR = root mean
square residual, RMSEA = root mean square error of approximation.

Table 2. Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Among the Study

Variables           M      SD       1        2       3        4

1. Gender          1.53   0.50   --

2. Age             1.70   0.46   -.21 **   --

3. Major           2.80   1.35    .48 **   -.16 *   --

4. Student         1.54   0.50   -.03       .10     -.02   --

5. Psychological   3.64   0.48    .001     -.08     -.01   -.13

6. Perceived       3.73   0.65    .09       .05      .13   -.04

7. Perceived       2.53   0.56   -.13      -.02     -.05    .18 **

8. Effort in       3.06   0.63    .05      -.003     .06   -.10

9. Amount of       3.01   0.60    .08      -.10      .04   -.08

Variables             5         6         7         8        9

1. Gender

2. Age

3. Major

4. Student

5. Psychological   (.91)

6. Perceived        .21 **   (.74)

7. Perceived       -.20 **   -.21 **   (.76)

8. Effort in        .27 **    .30 **   -.20 **   (.78)

9. Amount of        .16 *     .23 **   -.21 **    .74 **   (0.73)

Note. N = 215. Internal reliabilities are reported on the
diagonal in parentheses. * p < .05 ** p < .01 (two tailed).
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Author:Wang, Yanfei; Mei, Jie; Zhu, Yu
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:Aug 1, 2017
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