Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Coping Flexibility and Locus of Control as Predictors of Burnout among Chinese College Students

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Coping Flexibility and Locus of Control as Predictors of Burnout among Chinese College Students

Article excerpt

The study compared the predictive value of locus of control and coping flexibility on student burnout. Two hundred and seventy-three Chinese university students completed the Chinese version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory - Student Survey (MBI-SS; Schaufeli, Martinez, Marques-Pinto, Salanova, & Bakker, 2002), the Coping Flexibility Inventory (CFI; Zhang, Gan, & Zhang, 2005), and Rotter's Internal-External Scale (1966). Results indicated that the construct of coping flexibility was composed of perceived controllability and strategy-situation fit, which negatively predicted burnout. Coping flexibility accounted for significant incremental variance beyond locus of control in predicting the three dimensions of burnout The results provided evidence for the advantage of a person-situation interactional construct in predicting behavior, compared to its personality counterpart.

Keywords: coping flexibility, student burnout, locus of control, situation-strategy fit, perceived controllability.


Student burnout has been brought to attention by research in recent years. Being conceptually related to job burnout, student burnout refers to the set of psychological syndromes that occur due to chronic academic stress and course loads, manifested as student exhaustion, cynicism regarding learning tasks and reduced professional efficacy. Schaufeli, Martinez, Marques-Pinto, Salanova, and Bakker (2002) developed the student version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (i.e., MBI-SS), and demonstrated cross-cultural validity of this measure.

Many studies are interested in personality predictors of burnout. External-internal locus of control is among the most often cited predictors of burnout. The concept of locus of control comes from Rotter's (1966) social learning theory. Rotter believes that people have varying degrees of internality and externality. Internals believe that rewards they receive are contingent upon their own behavior, and are confident that they can control their destinies. Externals are just the opposite. They think that rewards are not dependent upon their actions and that the events that happen to them are the result of external factors, such as others' influences or luck.

As one of the most important personality variables that affect mental health, the relationship between locus of control and psychological symptoms has been the focus of much research. For instance, Presson and Benassi (1996) conducted a meta-analysis on 97 studies investigating locus of control and depression, finding that the average correlation coefficient between externality and depression was 0.31.

A great deal of the research conducted on locus of control has been done in North America. However, some researchers have pointed out that the concept of locus of control is a culturally related concept, largely reflecting the central values of Westerners' thought, such as those of independence and autonomy (Marks, 1998). Wang (1991) adapted Rotter's (1966) Internal-External Locus of Control Scale and found that Chinese university students exhibited more external locus of control than did their American counterparts. In a particular situation, the results may have even been reversed. Hipps and Malpin (1991) measured the internal locus of control of middle-school principals under the stress of threatened unemployment. They found that the higher these principals scored on internal locus of control, the higher they scored on the MBI.

This result suggests that locus of control, as a construct indicating general expectancy, is not the determinant of burnout. Instead, the capability to modify one's perceptions of control to fit situation demands is more important (Wong & Sproule, 1984). In other words, what can prevent burnout is not an internal locus of control, but an accurate perception of controllability of the situation, and an appropriate appraisal and matched coping strategies. …

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