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Self-efficacy, self-worth and stress.


Stress is largely a perception that environmental demands are too taxing for one's personal or external resources and unfortunately, it is an unavoidable part of student life. There are clear differences in how some students cope with stress, some students view stress as a challenge and thrive, whereas others have difficulty coping (Stoliker and Lafreniere, 2015). Stress originate from a variety of factors including academic issues, family problems and social activities (Weckwerth and Flynn, 2006; Stoliker and Lafreniere, 2015).

Employment after graduation given the growing competitive environment has also led to increased stress and higher levels of depression (Dusselier, et al., 2005). Lee et al., (2009) found that disordered eating, problems in concentration and depression have also been associated with the adjustment from high school to university. For many students, issues of time management, getting good grades on exams have been a significant source of stress and potentially damaging to a student's mental health (Kumaraswamy, 2013; Crocker and Luhtanen, 2003). With the ever increasing societal demands to obtain a post secondary degree, these stressors are only likely to show significant increases. Needless to say, with the increasingly high cost of college tuition financial struggles have been identified as primary source of stress for students (Dusselier et al., 2005; Draut & Silva, 2004; and Cronce & Corbin, 2010). Not surprisingly, Eisenberg et al. (2007) found that students lacking financial stability were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Over the past 30 years, studies have found the levels of stress reported by student to be on the rise (Prichard, et al., 2007; Mackenzie et al., 2011). Not surprising, reports of the frequency and severity of mental health problems reported by post secondary students are also increasing (ACHA, 2005). Not having effective coping mechanisms to manage stress that results from the demanding environment has been found to be correlated with depression, poor college adjustment and general life dissatisfaction (Newman & Newman, 2008; Verschoor & Markus, 2011; Crede & Niehorster, 2012) and even more disturbing are reports of increased rates of suicide (Floyd, et al., 2007). Unfortunately, maladaptive lifestyles including alcohol abuse, smoking, and eating disorders, have been found to be quite common in those students unable to cope with stress (Pritchard, et al., 2007; Economos, et al., 2008).

Ridding the university environment of stress is not realistic. Therefore, research has turned toward trying to identify those resources that may buffer the stress. Sherman et al., (2009) found that sympathetic nervous system responses commonly associated with stress were lower for those participants who affirmed positive life values prior to participating in a demanding exam. The experiment demonstrated that positive self-affirmation proved to be a protective factor against high levels of perceived stress. This self-affirmation constitutes an important component of Bandura's (1997) social cognitive theory, the self-efficacy belief that we use to exert a measure of control over our environments. According to Bandura (1986), self-efficacy is our judgment over our own capacity of organizing and structuring our activity in order to accomplish some results.

Self-efficacy beliefs have been found related to clinical problems such as phobias (Bandura, 1983), depression (Davis & Yates, 1982), stress in a variety of contexts (Jerusalem & Mittag, 1995); and to health (O'Leary, 1985), among others.

Since the introduction of the concept of self-efficacy by Bandura (1977), studies examining the relationship between self-efficacy and stress and depression have found that those who score higher on measures of self-efficacy show substantially fewer symptoms of stress and depression (Cutrona & Troutman, 1986; McFarlane et al, 1995). Bandura (1986) considers that our own judgments regarding self-efficacy are based on some aspects like previous mastery experience, social shaping and social pressure, physiological and emotional states such as anxiety, stress, arousal and mood states. Because individuals have the capability to alter their own thinking, self-efficacy beliefs, in turn, also powerfully influence the physiological states themselves. However, Bandura emphasized that one's mastery experiences are the most influential source of self-efficacy information. Experience plays an important part in elaborating our own judgments regarding self-efficacy. Previous experience shapes our behavior and changes our way of dealing with new situations.

Strong self-efficacy beliefs enhance human accomplishment and personal well-being in many ways. People with a strong sense of personal competence, according to Sebastian's (2013) interpretation of Bandura's (1986, 1997) notion of self-efficacy, "approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as dangers to be avoided, have greater intrinsic interest in activities, set challenging goals and maintain a strong commitment to them, heighten their efforts in the face of adversity, more easily recover their confidence after failures or setbacks, and attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills which they believe they are capable of acquiring. High self-efficacy helps create feelings of calmness and serenity in approaching difficult tasks and activities. Conversely, people with low self-efficacy may believe that things are tougher than they really are, a belief that fosters stress, depression, and a narrow vision of how best to solve a problem. As a result of these influences, self-efficacy beliefs are strong determinants and predictors of the level of accomplishment that individuals finally attain. For these reasons, Bandura (1986, 1997) has made the strong claim that beliefs of personal efficacy constitute the key factor of human agency." (p. 561). Following this line of reasoning, a strong correlate of self-efficacy is self-worth, whereas self-efficacy concerns beliefs about one's abilities while self-worth represents an attitude about one's self-esteem.

First, the goal of this paper is to create a more comprehensive self-efficacy scale, and secondly, to develop as a self-worth scale based on one's feelings about what life has brought and how it has impacted us. The reliability and validity of these two scales will be established and their scale values will be used to see how much variance of a state factor consisting of information about stress, physical health and mental health as well as satisfaction with life will be accounted for.



1434 male and 1584 female for a total of 3018 college and university students across Canada participated in this internet survey. These students were recruited through social media on a volunteer basis.

Measuring Instrument

The Self-Efficacy scale consisted of 14 items. For each item, a 5-point verbal frequency scale (Almost always, Frequently, Half the time, Rarely, Never) was used to register responses. Two items were used to measure each one of the following categories: personal competence, goal setting and commitment to achieving goals, recovery from setbacks, feeling of calmness, and social efficacy; three items were used to measure expended effort in the face of adversity and one item for measuring intrinsic interest in doing things. Respondents were asked to indicate their experience within the past month.

The Self-Worth scale consisted of 10 items using the same verbal frequency scale. Two items measure past experiences, two on emotional wellness, and three items on self (felt loved, felt useful, felt at peace), and three items on life situations (found life exciting, balanced, enjoyable).

Four variables (physical health, mental health, stress, and satisfaction with life) were used to gauge the respondent's state of health and stress. This constituted the State scale.


The items in these three scales were posted online and students were made aware of this survey scale through social media. All responses were voluntary.


A listwise deletion of missing data was used and as a result, 3018 non-missing cases were processed. There were 1584 female and 1434 male respondents. Cronbach's Coefficient Alpha for the 14-item Self-Efficacy scale was .880. The SPSS Factor procedure using maximum likelihood estimation was used to explore the factor structure of this scale. In the SPSS factor procedure, a KMO of .944 was observed. In Kaiser's (1974) terminology, this indicated that the data set is "marvelous" for factor analysis. One factor was extracted that accounted for 38% of the variance. All 14 items loaded on this factor, which of course, will be named self-efficacy.

The 10-item Self-Worth scale resulted in a Coefficient Alpha of .864 and a KMO of .92 in the maximum likelihood factor analysis which also produced a single factor accounting for 41% of the variance. All items loaded on this factor which would be named self-worth. The factor scores for both self-efficacy and self-worth were obtained for subsequent analysis.

Similarly, the four variables in the State scale were also item analyzed and factor analyzed. A Cronbach's Coefficient Alpha of .598 was obtained and all four items loaded on a single factor (State) accounting for 31.5% of the variance. The factor score of the State scale was saved. The relatively low Coefficient Alpha is an expected result of a very short scale.

The relationships among the three factor scores could be summarized in Figure 1 which shows that self-efficacy and self-worth are highly correlated at 0.9 and that both of them together could account for 21% of the variance in the State factor.


The construction of the Self-Efficacy scale was inspired by Bandura's (1986) sources for self-efficacy. It is reasoned that self-efficacy which is our judgment over our own capacity in organizing and structuring our activity in order to accomplish goals or to get results should be positively related to self-worth. The more we can do the better person we become and the more self-esteem we accord to ourselves. The can-do spirit rendered us an accomplished person, a person with self-worth, a person with less stress.

Despite the fact that both the Self-Efficacy scale and the Self-Worth scale have been shown to have nice psychometric properties, its measurement metric, according to Blanton and Jaccard (2006), is at best arbitrary because, in the absence of links to the external referents, the scores themselves are meaningless. For future research direction for these two scales, we need to find these external referents to test if its metric is, in Blanton and Jaccard's word, "nonarbitrary". One surefire way to accomplish this is to administer any one of these two scales together with a well-established valid stress scale, the scale values of which have been attached meanings. If the correlation with the stress scale is significant (in that a large percentage of the variance could be accounted for) and negative, then divergent validity of these two scales could be established. Zajacova et al., (2005) found a negative correlation between academic stress and self-efficacy and also found self efficacy to be positively related to academic success. General self-efficacy and perceived stress were found to be negatively correlated in a group of male high school students by Moeini et al., (2008). In the same study, elf-efficacy was found to account for 42% of the variance in psychological distress. Zhao et al., (2015) found self-efficacy to be a moderator of stress reporting that if one feels capable of a task they report experiencing less stress associated with that specific task

Practical Implications

When students make the transition from public school to the larger more challenging world of college there are a number of factors that determine if that transition is going to occur smoothly or if there are going to be difficulties (Dyson & Renk, 2006). What resources the student possesses to increase their stress tolerance is often cited as the differentiating factor in their ability to cope (Welle & Graf, 2011).

In order for the university community and mental health professionals to identify and design useful and successful treatments for those unable to cope, this type of basic research is imperative. Identifying self-esteem and self-worth as important internal resources that perhaps could be increased with proper training, experience or therapy would go a long way in helping to design and conduct primary prevention programs in the hope to alleviate or reduce the stressful experience for our post secondary students.


Nipissing University



Nipissing University



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Caption: Figure 1. Standardized regression estimates of the model.
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Author:Flynn, Deborah M.; Chow, Peter
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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