Identity-Work Techniques Among Undergraduate Students: Coping Strategies for Academic Setbacks
Identity and narrative work both refer to the internal and external efforts social actors actively and passively engage in to negotiate and reconcile their self-concepts and experiences, as well as to alleviate emotional disturbances when faced with inconsistency or disappointments. Situating psychological theories in a sociological framework, this thesis studies how undergraduate students emotionally appraise academic disappointments (as threats to their senses of self), how they cope with or react to these disappointments, and the factors that influence both. An online questionnaire was randomly distributed to 200 undergraduate students at a university located in Ontario—a province where students have reported the highest prevalence of elevated distress nationally. Univariate and bivariate results were obtained from 47 respondents. The results suggest students most commonly employ a mix of adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies. Results posit the student behaviours/attitudes variables are the most widely associated with the frequency of using various coping strategies, followed by well-being/mental health and institutional factors. However, whether a student regularly uses these strategies was most strongly associated with well-being/mental health variables. Surprisingly, a slight majority of respondents found below average grades greatly to extremely upsetting, regardless of assessment type. The student behaviours/attitudes variables, as well as social influences variables were associated with all threat appraisals, while well-being/mental health variables were not. The univariate results replicate some of the forms of identity/narrative work found in the literature, namely those suggested by Snow and Anderson (1987) and Perinbanayagam (2000); while bivariate results partially support sociological and psychological literature, with some differences. Results substantiate the strength of socialization and institutional factors for the study of identity work. A few preliminary insights for university professors and support staff are offered and further courses of inquiry are suggested.