The Structure of Adult Students' Worries

By Kelly, William E. | Educational Research Quarterly, September 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Structure of Adult Students' Worries


Kelly, William E., Educational Research Quarterly


This study investigated the structure of adult students' worries. Students (N = 309) enrolled in advanced undergraduate and graduate university courses were administered the Student Worry Scale. A factor analysis revealed three factors of student worries: worries about living conditions, esteem-related worries, and world-related worries. Worries varied somewhat by developmental level. Younger students were more worried about living conditions and how they were regarded, while older students were more worried about the state of the world.

Worry has been defined as a commonly experienced sequence of unpleasant thoughts (Borkovec, 1985). Research involving university students suggests that worry is especially prevalent among this population. For instance, Tallis, Davey, & Capuzzo (1994) reported that 38% of students in their study reported worrying everyday and 72% endorsed worrying at least once a month. Because worry has been determined to be a common experience, there has been an increased interest in understanding this phenomenon. Primarily, worry research has progressed in two directions: 1. understanding the traits and characteristics of individuals who worry often and 2. understanding the structure, or categories, of worry content.

With regards to the first line of research, findings suggest that individuals who worry often, compared to those who worry less often, tend to report a number of unpleasant experiences including general anxiety (Borkovec, Robinson, Pruzinsky, & DuPree, 1983), several forms of physical discomfort (Jung, 1993), a tendency to experience more boredom (Kelly & Markos, 2001), difficulties with time-management (Kelly, 2003a), depression (Starcevic, 1995), poor problem-solving confidence (Davey, 1994), perfectionism (Chang, 2000), sleep disturbance (Kelly, 2003b), less tolerance for unstructured activities (Uugas, Gosselin, & Ladouceur, 2001), less life satisfaction (Paolini, Yanez, & Kelly, 2006), and heightened self-consciousness (Pruzinsky & Borkovec, 1990). Overall, it appears that individuals who are apt to worry are less psychologically healthy and engage in some behaviors which could be self-defeating, such as not structuring time well, being overly self-critical, and attempting to perfect most aspects of their lives.

Compared to our knowledge of worriers' characteristics, relatively little is known about the structure of worry content. Tallis, Eysenck, and Mathews (1992) investigated domains of worry content in a general population sample. They found six clusters of worries. These were: 1 . worries about relationships, 2. worries about one's confidence, 3. worries about purpose in their future, 4. worries about work, S. financial worries, and 6. worries about society and the environment.

One of the few studies which throughly examined worry content among student populations was conducted by Boehnke, Schwartz, Stromberg, and Sagiv (1998). Boehnke et al. factor analyzed several topics of worry content and found evidence of two primary worry structures. These were: micro worries, which included worries about threats or potential threats to the self or individuals close to oneself, and macro worries, which included worries about the state of the society and environment. They theorized that macro worries were more healthy; whereas, micro worries were associated with unpleasant psychological experiences.

Aside from the Boehnke et al. (1998) study, little is known about the the structure of worry among students. Indeed, because the Boehnke et al. study was carried-out on a more "traditional," young undergraduate student population, even less is known about the worries of older adult students. With the increased emphasis on adult education over the past several years, to provide a better educational experience for more mature students, it would seem important to understand their characteristics and concerns. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to examine the structure of worry content among an adult student population.

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