The Influence of Dispositional Optimism and Gender on Adolescents' Perception of Academic Stress

Article excerpt

Cumulative evidence from a variety of sources suggests that optimism contributes positively to an individual's physical and psychological well-being. For example, Aspinwall and Taylor (1992) found that optimism exerted a direct and positive effect on an individual's level of adjustment to life's stressful events. Students who are optimistic were better able to cope with school-related stress than students who are pessimistic. In an earlier study, Scheier and Carver (1985) found that optimism helped students cope more effectively with stress. Students who reported themselves to be optimistic at the start of the semester were less likely to be bothered by stress-related symptoms by the end of the semester than those who reported themselves to be less optimistic initially. Other studies have also shown that having an optimistic disposition is a strong predictor of successful adaptation to stressful encounters and also found to be related to positive adjustment (Ben-Zur, Rappaport, Ammar, & Uretzky, 2000; Herman-Stahl & Peterson, 1996). A review of the literature also revealed limited research on the relationship between optimism and academic stress with regard to gender differences (Ben-Zur, 2003; Chang, 1996; Chang & Sanna, 2003; Scheier, Weintraub, & Carver, 1986). The objective of this study is to examine the influence of optimism together with gender, on adolescents' perception of academic stress, but with specific reference to the Singapore adolescent.

Dispositional Optimism

According to Scheier, Carver, and Bridges (2000), optimism is a dispositional tendency of an individual to hold generalized positive expectancies even "... when people confront adversity or difficulty in their lives" (p. 190). These generalized expectancies apply to the individual's entire life domain. This approach to understanding optimism measures expectancies directly by asking individuals to indicate the extent to which they believe their future outcomes will be good or bad. For the optimist, there is an expectancy that good outcomes will occur even when one is confronted with major obstacles (Scheier & Carver, 1985). With an optimistic disposition, Ben-Zur (2003) found that an individual tends to have a positive view of goal-fulfilling expectations which in turn affects his/her motivation and the amount of effort made to fulfill these expectations. Klaczynski and Fauth (1996) noted that to a large extent, optimism can be perceived as a motivational aspect of future expectations that may influence both the types of goals individuals set and the enthusiasm they have for fulfilling these expectations.

Research has also shown optimism to have a moderating effect on how people handle new or difficult situations. When faced with difficult situations, optimists are also more likely to have positive emotional reactions and expectations. They expect to have positive outcomes even when things are difficult; they tend to take an attitude of confidence and persistence. Optimists also tend to assume that adversity can be successfully handled in one way or another and they are more likely to employ active and problem-focused coping strategies than avoidance or withdrawal (Carver & Scheier, 1985; Chemers, Hu, & Garcia, 2001; Scheier et al., 1986). They fare better and are more likely to persist in their goal-oriented efforts than do pessimists when faced with stressful occurrences (Scheier & Carver, 1985; Smith, Pope, Rhodewalt, & Poulton, 1989). Conversely, pessimists described themselves as being doubtful and hesitant when confronted with difficult situations. They are more likely to anticipate disaster under conditions of adversity (Scheier & Carver, 1992).

In an adolescent sample, Nurmi (1989) found that optimism which is often assessed by the perceived probability that a given goal would be attained, is described as the extent to which the adolescent feels that his or her goals will eventually be realized. …


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