Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Use of Human Resources Literature regarding the Relationship between Affect and Student Academic Performance

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Use of Human Resources Literature regarding the Relationship between Affect and Student Academic Performance

Article excerpt


Over time, a dominant tension in the affect literature is reflected in the arguments of certain theorists (Brief, Burke, George, Robinson & Webster, 1988; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee & Podsakoff, 2003) who have argued that negative affect poses a methodological threat in research as a 'nuisance' variable (through an indirect influence), and the arguments of Spektor, Zapf, Chen and Frese (2000), who argue that affect has a substantive influence and should be treated as an important causal variable in its own right (with a direct influence).

From the literature, the potential influence of affect within the context of first-year accounting students is limited. It is argued in this research that negative and positive affect have a direct and substantive influence on the performance of first-year students in this context. This article seeks to contribute to the human resources literature by offering insight into these relationships. In doing so, implications for theory and practice are derived. Recommendations are made for how to support and empower students and their academic performance.

Affect, or affectivity, represents a mood or emotional, dispositional orientation that reflects substantive, or theoretically predicted, individual differences (Luo & Bao, 2013). Affect is comprised of two separate dimensions: negative affect (NA) and positive affect (PA) (Luo & Bao, 2013). NA is a:

general dimension of subjective distress and unpleasurable engagement that subsumes a variety of aversive mood states, including anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, fear and nervousness, with low NA being a state of calmness and serenity. (Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988, p. 1063).

PA 'reflects the extent to which a person feels enthusiastic, active and alert'; high PA is associated with 'a state of high energy, full concentration, and pleasurable engagement, whereas low PA is characterised by sadness and lethargy' (Watson et al., 1988, p. 1063).

Over time, however, what is absent from the affect literature is the nature of its potential influence, as a substantive effect, on student performance. More specifically, there seems to be no previous research on the potential influence of affect on student performance in the South African higher education context.

NA has been found to potentially constrain different dimensions of performance through a range of different effects, for example through its negative influence on creativity at a point in time (Bledow, Rosing & Frese, 2013), its constraint to proactive responses to challenges (Parker, Johnson, Collins & Nguyen, 2013) and its association with higher turnover likelihood (Vandenberghe, Panaccio & Ayed, 2011) and workplace deviance (Chen, Chen & Liu, 2013).

The influence of affect on performance, however, is not immutable. In experimental conditions, PA has also been shown to increase, and NA to decrease, when tasks are more meaningful (Schutte, Searle, Meade & Dark, 2012). According to Bledow et al. (2013), creativity, or the development of new and useful ideas, in students can be increased through the management of their affectivity, through the facilitation of positive affect. According to these perspectives, affect can be managed. Knowledge of the specific dimensions of affect that are associated with student performance may make it easier to support and empower students in this context.

High NA individuals typically focus more on negative aspects of themselves and circumstances, accentuating the negative, and are more likely to experience distress (Watson & Clark, 1984). High PA individuals typically reflect characteristics opposite to these, but low NA does not necessarily correspond with PA; these are separate constructs (Watson & Clark, 1984). Although our understanding of the influence of affect on a range of different work performance outcomes has improved over time, questions still remain as to the role of affect in other domains of performance. …

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