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ALH0010.1177/1469787413514651Active Learning in Higher EducationLin and Huang

Article

Life stress and academic burnout

Active Learning in Higher Education


2014, Vol. 15(1) 7790
The Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/1469787413514651
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Shu-Hui Lin

National Taichung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan

Yun-Chen Huang

National Taichung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan

Abstract
Stress has been shown to negatively affect learning. Academic burnout is a significant problem associated with
poor academic performance. Although there has been increased attention on these two issues, literature on
the relationship between students life stress and burnout is relatively limited. This study surveys academic
burnout and life stresses among college students and further assesses whether reports of life stresses can
serve as a predictor of academic burnout. The Undergraduate Life Stress Scale and Learning Burnout
Scale are used as research tools, and data from 2640 students were collected. The results showed that both
the level of students burnout and stress are in general not serious. Female students and upper year students
reported higher values of life stresses. The self-identity stress, interpersonal stress, future development
stress, and academic stress could jointly predict student academic burnout.

Keywords
academic burnout, college students, life stress, regression analysis

Academic burnout and life stress


Stress is a major issue for students as they cope with a variety of academic, social, and personal
challenges. When stress is perceived negatively or becomes excessive, it can affect both health and
academic performance and can have an adverse effect on students. Studies indicated that stress is a
significant predictor of psychological distress in college students and can manifest as anxiety and
depressive symptoms (Amutio and Smith, 2007; Morrison and OConner, 2005). Another important
issue in students is academic burnout. Research indicated that college students have middle to
upper levels of burnout (Pines et al., 1981); it adversely affects students learning. Therefore, it is
important to evaluate the two constructs among college students population. By identifying specific
life stresses associated with academic burnout among students, it may be possible to prevent, or at
least to diminish, burnout, and thus to improve students overall academic achievement.
Corresponding author:
Yun-Chen Huang, Department & Graduate School of Accounting Information, National Taichung University of Science
and Technology, 129, Sec.3, Sanmin Road, Taichung City 404, Taiwan, R.O.C.
Email: minnie@nutc.edu.tw

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Academic burnout
Studies of burnout have focused primarily on professionals who help others or on people whose
work requires them to have a close interaction with others (e.g. health care, education, and social
work). Burnout refers to a state of emotional exhaustion, a tendency toward depersonalization, and
a feeling of low personal accomplishment that usually occurs among people helping professionals;
in short, it is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished personal
accomplishment (Maslach et al., 2001; Yang, 2004). However, in recent years, this concept was
extended into professions which are less people-oriented as well. Burnout symptoms have also
been observed in contexts outside of study or work, such as in athletes or in marriage (Schaufeli et
al., 2002). In particular, it has been shown that burnout is experienced by students (Balogun et al.,
1996; Chang et al., 2000; Yang, 2004).
Although students are not workers as such, from the perspective of psychology, their studies
encompass structured activities, such as attending class and submitting assignments, which can be
considered work. There is increasing recognition that students show symptoms of burnout and
that they experience substantial levels of burnout (Balogun et al., 1996; Jacobs and Dodd, 2003).
Pines et al. (1981) examined and compared burnout in nurses, counselors, educators, and undergraduate students. They found that students ranked in the middle to upper levels of the burnout
scale, indicating that students have some degree of burnout during their learning process.
Academic burnout can be regarded as an extension of career burnout in that students in the
learning process, because of course stress, course load, or other psychological factors, display a
state of emotional exhaustion, a tendency to depersonalization, and a feeling of low personal
accomplishment (Balogun et al., 1996; Lingard et al., 2007; Yang, 2004; Zhang et al., 2007). The
syndrome of student burnout is similar to that in human service employees in that it can lead to
higher absenteeism, lower motivation to do required work, a higher percentage of dropout, and so
on (Meier and Schmeck, 1985). It is obvious that student burnout has a negative significant effect
on academic learning.
Student burnout is important for several reasons. First, student burnout may be a key for understanding a wide range of student behaviors during their studies. Second, student burnout may also
influence their relationships, present and future, with their institution and with their fellow students, lecturers, and others. Third, the prevalence of student burnout may affect the general reputation of the institution for new students with potential ramifications for present and future enrollment
(Neumann et al., 1990). Therefore, student burnout is an important aspect of an institutions effectiveness and as such may have distinct policy implications for institutions of higher learning.
To date, most research has explored student academic burnout in relation to three factors: low
sense of achievement, depersonalization, and emotional exhaustion (Balogun et al., 1996;
Lingard et al., 2007; Zhang et al., 2007). Low sense of achievement refers to a decline in feelings
of competence and of successful achievement in academic learning. Depersonalization refers to
a negative, callous, or excessively detached response to other people. Emotional exhaustion
refers to feelings of being emotionally overextended and depleted. In addition to these three widely
discussed factors, Huang and Lin (2010, 2011) and Lin and Huang (2012) have identified a fourth
factor of academic burnout, namely, negative learning emotion. Negative learning emotion
refers to negative attitudes, emotions, or behaviors toward everyday learning. Although studies in
countries such as the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States have used the
three-factor model, Huang and Lin (2010, 2011) identified a four-factor model in their study of
learning burnout among Taiwanese students. Hence, the four-factor model of undergraduate burnout is adopted in this study including low personal accomplishment, depersonalization, emotion
exhaustion, and negative learning emotion.

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Life stress
While undergoing the transition from adolescence to adulthood, students experience numerous and
varied demands or stressors because they are still in the process of developing skills and acquiring
resources to enable them to meet all the demands (Hicks and Heastie, 2008). Potential stressors
unique to university-level students include transitioning to the role of being a student, adjusting to
heightened academic demands, living independently, and immersing in a novel social network
(Hicks and Heastie, 2008). Although a certain level of stress may result in improved performance,
too much stress can adversely affect physical and mental health (Schneiderman et al., 2005).
University-level students are particularly prone to stress and there is a clear link between student
stress and illness, including both physical and psychological aspects (Houghton et al., 2012; Ruthig
et al., 2009). Some individuals are unable to restrain the psychological impact of stressors, and they
suffer many health symptoms (Youssef and Luthans, 2007). Depression and suicidal tendencies are
two of the most significant and worrisome reactions to stress (Oswalt and Riddock, 2007). A high
stress level may affect not only academic performance but also all aspects of student health. Too
much stress is harmful to everyone, including students.
University-level students face a number of stressors ranging from the demands of their academic coursework to challenges in managing interpersonal relationships (Houghton et al., 2012).
According to a survey by Fan (2000), 86.6% of Chinese students perceived high stress in their
academic life, 55.3% in their social life, and 32.5% in their finances. In Taiwan, research suggests
that students face a variety of life stresses such as self-identity stress, interpersonal stress, academic stress, and future development stress (Chu et al., 2006; Lee and Chen, 2004; Shi, 2004; Tsai,
2005). As to self-identity stress, Gianakos (1996) found that the majority of students are at what is
known as the identity versus role diffusion stage (Erikson, 1968), often exploring randomly
while attempting to specify and implement their preferences. Therefore, self-identity is a key
aspect of what affects students, as learners, as they get to grips with their identity.
In terms of interpersonal stress, although families are important for individuals, peers gradually become indispensable as age increases. Students will turn their attention to the peer group
during the course of developing independence. Students must learn how to establish and maintain
significant interpersonal relationships around them and get self-affirmation through these relationships (Shi, 2004). If they fail to interact properly with people around them or cannot accept the
circumstances of life, it is very likely to result in increased stress and an unhealthy mental state.
The quality of interpersonal relationships on campus significantly influences students as they adapt
to life more generally and to their studies more specifically. How students cope with interpersonal
stresses is important for the development of their emotions (Grant et al., 2006; Seiffge-Krenke,
2000). Interpersonal issues can also have a negative impact on academic studies.
According to investigations (John Tung Foundation, 2005, 2008), future development stress
is the greatest life stress for students and the one experienced most frequently. Additional studies
also found that future development stress was the most significant and serious source of stress
for undergraduate students (Lee and Chen, 2004; Tsai, 2005). Nowadays, with the increased rate of
unemployment, students are especially concerned about whether they will be successful in finding
a job after graduation. Lu (2004) investigated the relationship between life stresses and coping
strategies among 1140 students and found that feelings of employment pressure were the highest
of all of their life stresses. Chu et al. (2006) reported similar findings. Their results showed that the
greatest stress experienced by students came from future planning. They concluded that for students, it was important to consider their future development.
Furthermore, academic stress includes mental and emotional pressure, tension, or stress that
occurs due to the demands of university life. Yang and Fan (2004) reported that it is one of the

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important factors that troubles students. Not unsurprisingly, the workload that students face at
university is significantly greater than the high school workload, and it comes with less handholding from parents and teachers. Too much academic stress can contribute to depression and
physical illness (MacGeorge et al., 2005), which can in turn negatively affect academic performance and, in the worst cases, may discourage students from going on to graduate.
According to Lu (2004), the stressors of students can be divided into six areas: academic stress,
interpersonal stress, family stress, emotional stress, future development stress, and self-identity
stress. Of these, academic stress refers to the stress of academic work, exams, grades, reports,
instructors requirements, and so on. Interpersonal stress means the stress related to a lack of
friends, poor social relationships, fighting with peers, avoidance of friends, and so on. Family
stress means the stress of dealing with the expectations of parents, parental discipline, parent
fighting and divorce, family economical difficulty, and so on. Emotional stress means the stress
of not confiding in someone, having no boy (or girl) friend, families being against dating, breaking
up with a boy (girl) friend, and so on. Future development stress means the stress of pursuing
higher education and employment, inability to find a job, lack of employment competitiveness,
feelings of uncertainty about the future, and so on. Self-identity stress refers to the stress associated with negative self perceptions in appearance and body image, lack of a career focus, lack or
self-knowledge, lack of confidence, and other negative attributes related to personal identity.

Linking up academic burnout with life stress and related variables


Burnout has been associated with factors in the world of work that are analogous to student
persistence and retention, such as intention to leave employment and reduced organizational
commitment (Lee and Ashforth, 1996). Burnout is related to a number of factors, but stress factors are the most widely discussed. Among workers, individuals face job stresses in work,
emotional strains, and even aggression or other irrational behaviors affecting their job performance. As a result, they fail to achieve their aims and experience occupational burnout. Stress
has been found to be closely linked to burnout; the stronger the work stress, the deeper the
career burnout (Brewer and McMahan, 2003). Khattak et al. (2011), for instance, examined
occupational stress and burnout in the banking sector of Pakistan, where they found that stress
was directly related to burnout.
Research related to student burnout has generally focused on examining various aspects of students lives, such as academic studies and achievement, or has identified factors including workload and personality that correlate with student burnout (Jacobs and Dodd, 2003; Weckwerth and
Flynn, 2006). The life stresses that students experience are analogous to the job stresses of employees and can be a pervasive aspect of students lives. The resultant stress they experience makes
college students vulnerable to psychological and physical health problems as well as academic
difficulties (Matheny et al., 2005; Ruthig et al., 2009; Vaez and LaFlamme, 2008). Numerous studies have evaluated the impact of stress on college students (e.g. Edwards et al., 2001; Misra et al.,
2000), but there has been a dearth of studies involving student burnout.
In the learning process, stress resulted from lessons, high workload, or other psychological
pressure factors may lead to emotional burnout, tendency to desensitization, and low feeling of
success (Yang and Fan, 2004). Stress has been found to be the main culprit when undergraduate
students fail to complete their degree requirements and drop out of university (Rickinson, 1998).
Stress has also been shown to affect learning performance through increased exhaustion (LePine
et al., 2004). Using a longitudinal design, Stewart et al. (1999) found that academic performance
during medical school was negatively related to reported stress levels. Obviously, life stresses
have been associated with a number of negative consequences for college students. Therefore,

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additional information is necessary to more fully understand the relationship between the two
variables among the college student population.
Stress has an unquestioned significance in the burnout phenomenon, particularly when it is long
lasting and ones strategies are incapable of managing that stress (Gebocka and Lisowska, 2007).
As pointed out by Hendrix et al. (2000), higher perceived stress was related to higher emotional
exhaustion and depersonalization and lower levels of personal accomplishment. Additionally, for
workers, Rainey (1999) once identified five sources of stress in a factor analysis of the responses
of basketball referees. He found that three sources of stress factors can predict referee burnout.
Since student burnout is conceptually similar to job burnout, there might be some similar results
with life stresses. However, Huang and Lin (2010) found that there exists a canonical correlation
between students academic burnout and life stress; their results suggested that the higher the life
stress the student experiences, the higher the degree of their burnout. However, in all the reviewed
studies, none evaluated the relationship of student-reported stress as a predictor of academic burnout. This makes direct exploration of their relationships problematic. In sum, the main contribution
of this article is to examine student life stress as a predictor of academic burnout. This should allow
us to more closely understand the relative importance of these two concepts for student academic
performance.
Furthermore, in studies in the domain of psychology, gender and age are often important variables, and it is also the case in burnout and stress. In the manifestation of burnout and stress, differences between the genders or different age have been reported for different occupational groups.
For example, in the research of Antoniou et al. (2006), special emphasis was given to gender and
age differences. They indicated that female workers experienced significantly higher levels of
occupational stress, and younger workers experienced higher levels of burnout, specifically in
terms of emotional exhaustion and disengagement from the profession. Results from the research
of Brake et al. (2003) showed that gender differences in burnout among dentists exist; male dentists
reported a higher score on the depersonalization than did female dentists, although no gender differences were found on emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment. No gender-related
differences in work stress experienced were found. As to students, although females have been
found to be more engaged in school, they also experience higher level of stress and school burnout
(Salmela-Aro et al., 2009).
There is still much that we need to find out about the state of academic burnout and life stress
experienced by learners, and whether demographic characteristics (gender and age/different year)
are related to academic burnout and life stress. The most important research question concerns
academic burnout and whether or not this can be predicted from student reports of life stress.

Methods
Research participants
Participants were recruited from five universities in Taiwan; three were public and two were private.
A profile of students enrolled in those five universities indicated that their background and demographic characteristics were representative of students attending universities nationwide. Thus, the
participants are seen as representatives of students enrolled at the universities. The sample comprised 2970 undergraduate students with a return rate of 89%, including 330 invalid questionnaires
and 2640 valid questionnaires. The numbers of sampled students from the five universities were
573, 497, 494, 578, and 498, respectively. Because there were many volunteers among sophomores
and a number of invalid questionnaires from seniors, there was a discrepancy among years. The
majority of participants (71%) were lower year students (freshmen and sophomores), whereas upper

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Table 1. The characteristics of the participants including gender, year, major, and parents education.
Gender, n (%)
Male
Female
Year, n (%)
First year (freshman)
Second year (sophomore)
Third year (junior)
Fourth year (senior)
Major, n (%)
Social sciences
Business administration
Computer engineering
Education sciences
Philology
Others
Parents education, n (%)
College or above
High school
Middle school or below
Total

1268 (48%)
1372 (52%)
680 (25%)
1199 (46%)
477 (19%)
284 (10%)
581 (22%)
818 (31%)
502 (19%)
343 (13%)
264 (10%)
132 (5%)
818 (31%)
1426 (54%)
396 (15%)
2640

year students (juniors and seniors) were 29%. The mean age of the students was 20.23 years. In
terms of gender, 52% were female and 48% were male students. Table 1 shows characteristics of the
participants.

Measures
Prior to this study, researchers conducted a discussion with 20 class leaders. These students were
asked to describe burnout symptoms according to emotion, awareness, and behavior, and also to
describe sources of life stresses that they often experienced. Based on these discussions, the published scales were edited and revised. For the aspect of life stresses, the Undergraduate Life Stress
Scale (Lu, 2004) was used. For assessment of academic burnout, the Academic Burnout Scale (Huang
and Lin, 2011) was used. A total of 30 undergraduate students were then invited to do a pretest of the
revised questionnaire, and further amendments were made according to the student opinion of question content. The final survey consisted of three parts: background of participants (institute, gender,
year, major, and parents education), the revised Undergraduate Life Stress scale, and the revised
Undergraduate Academic Burnout scale. The contents of these scales are summarized below.

Undergraduate Life Stress Scale


The original scale has six subscales with Cronbachs coefficients between 0.69 and 0.92 (Lu,
2004). Construct validity and reliability of this scale have previously been shown in universitylevel populations (Huang and Lin, 2010). It was adapted for this study in order to establish its
validity and reliability. The formal scale has 29 questions rated on a 4-point Likert-type scale (1 =
no impact; 4 = strongly impact). Participants responded based on their own practical experience
over the past year. Higher scores indicated greater impact of the life stresses on participants. For

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the valid samples, the scale KaiserMeyerOlkin (KMO) value is 0.89, indicating that the data
collected are suitable for factor analysis. The method of principal component for factor extraction
was adopted, using Promax for oblique factors, and items with factor loading of less than 0.5 were
removed. Three items were deleted and six factors, named as academic stress, interpersonal stress,
family stress, emotion stress, future development stress, and self-identity stress, were extracted
from the remaining 26 items. The cumulative percentage of variance of the six factors was 57%.
The reliability of measurement items were evaluated using Cronbachs . The Cronbachs values
for the six factors were between 0.67 and 0.80, and that for the overall scale was 0.86. Hence, the
validity and the internal reliability of the scale were good.

Undergraduate Academic Burnout Scale


The original instrument has four subscales, revised from the Maslach Burnout Inventory (Maslach
et al., 1996), and has been shown to have not only good fit but also good reliability, construct validity, and criterion-related validity (Huang and Lin, 2011). The tool was slightly adapted to measure
the general level of academic burnout for individual students. The scale has 20 questions rated on a
5-point Likert-type scale (1 = never happens; 5 = always happens). Higher scores indicated a more
serious degree of academic burnout. For the valid samples in this research, the scale KMO value is
0.90, indicating that the data collected are suitable for factor analysis. The same procedure described
above was adopted. Five items were deleted and four factors were extracted from the 15 questions.
It contains four factors: low personal accomplishment, depersonalization, emotion exhaustion, and
negative learning emotion. The cumulative percentage of variance of the four factors was 58%. The
Cronbachs values for the four factors were between 0.61 and 0.78, and that for the overall scale
was 0.84. Both the validity and the internal reliability of the scale were acceptable.

Data collection and data analysis


Contact with the heads of five universities was made by letter or telephone. The administration of the
questionnaire was conducted via groups of 3545 participants in a classroom within the school timetable. After obtaining the consent of instructors in the classrooms, questionnaires were distributed by
research assistants. Students were free to decide whether to take part in the 10- to 15-minute survey.
They were informed that their responses to the survey were anonymous and that their decision about
whether or not to participate in the survey would not in any way affect their grade in the course. Prior
to undertaking the survey, the assistants briefed the students about the research objectives and procedures. Participants did not receive any type of incentive for their participation in the study. The
administration took place under the supervision of the researchers or the assistants. Upon completion
of the survey, the research assistants gathered the questionnaires and conducted data entry.
SPSS software was employed for the data analysis. To evaluate the status of student burnout and
life stress, descriptive statistics were performed. Then independent t-tests were carried out to
examine the variation between different gender and years about the study variables. Finally, a
series of multiple regression analyses, using the score of total scale, was performed to assess the
extent to which the life stress variables accounted for variance in burnout for total participants,
different gender and year students, respectively.

Results
Means and standard deviations of the study variables are presented in Table 2. The mean level of
overall academic burnout for participants was between 2.00 and 3.00, that is, the level of academic

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Table 2. Comparisons of academic burnout and all factors of the life stresses for gender and upper/lower
year students.
Academic Academic Family
burnout stress
stress
Overall

M
SD

Gender
Male

2.53
0.60

M
2.51
SD
0.62
Female M
2.55
SD
0.59

t-value 1.63
Year
Lower M
2.54
SD
0.62
Upper M
2.50
SD
0.56

t-value 1.57

Interpersonal Emotional Future


Self-identity
stress
stress
development stress
stress

2.16
0.57

1.59
0.64

1.66
0.67

1.58
0.67

2.38
0.68

2.10
0.65

2.13
0.58
2.18
0.56
2.32*

1.60
0.67
1.58
0.62
0.73

1.67
0.69
1.64
0.65
1.21

1.61
0.69
1.55
0.65
2.33*

2.34
0.68
2.42
0.67
3.07**

2.07
0.66
2.14
0.64
2.86**

1.53
0.67
1.70
0.67
6.04**

2.39
0.69
2.34
0.65
1.62

2.16
0.57
2.14
0.58
0.70

1.57
1.64
0.64
0.67
1.65
1.71
0.66
0.66
3.12** 2.40*

2.10
0.66
2.11
0.61
0.03

SD: standard deviation.


*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01.

burnout for undergraduate students was between rarely happens and sometimes happens. As
for life stresses, the means for each item were about 2.00 on average, indicating that the life stresses
were close to the level of slight impact. Among them, future development stress had the highest mean score, followed by academic stress and self-identity stress.
In order to investigate differences among genders or years (taking freshmen and sophomores as
the lower year group, and juniors and seniors as the upper year group), subdivision comparisons
according to gender and year were conducted. As shown in Table 2, there are no significant differences in the overall academic burnout by gender or years. As to life stresses, female students
reported significantly higher values than male students, and upper year students also reported
higher values than lower year students on some factors of life stresses.
Stepwise multiple regression analysis was formed with academic burnout being the dependent
variable and life stressors being the independent variables. Before performing that, a collinearity
analysis was carried out. The variance inflation factor (VIF) values for all variables were between
1.00 and 1.49, none of them were over 10. All of the condition index (CI) values were less than
12.76. Therefore, there were no collinearity problems. Table 3 shows that four of the life stressors
were predictive of high levels of academic burnout among whole participants. These four were
self-identity stress, interpersonal stress, future development stress, and academic stress.
The analysis revealed the following: First, among the six factors of life stress sources, four of
them could partially predict undergraduate academic burnout, in the order of self-identity stress,
interpersonal stress, future development stress, and academic stress. These factors accounted for
25% of the variance, indicating that these factors could be used to effectively predict 25% of the
reported undergraduate burnout, and among them, the self-identity stress accounted for 15%, serving as the major predictive variable.
Second, all values were positive, indicating that self-identity stress, interpersonal stress, future
development stress, and academic stress had adverse influences on student burnout. The higher the

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Table 3. Summary of the multivariate stepwise regression analysis of undergraduate life stresses and the
academic burnout.

Total

Gender

Male

Female

Year

Lower

Upper

Predictor variables

R2

Standardized
regression
coefficient

t-value

Self-identity stress
Interpersonal stress
Future development stress
Academic stress
Self-identity stress
Interpersonal stress
Future development stress
Academic stress
Self-identity stress
Interpersonal stress
Future development stress
Academic stress
Self-identity stress
Interpersonal stress
Future development stress
Academic stress
Future development stress
Self-identity stress
Interpersonal stress
Academic stress

0.39
0.45
0.49
0.50
0.42
0.48
0.52
0.53
0.36
0.42
0.46
0.48
0.41
0.48
0.51
0.52
0.35
0.41
0.44
0.45

0.15
0.21
0.24
0.25
0.18
0.23
0.28
0.28
0.13
0.18
0.21
0.23
0.17
0.23
0.26
0.27
0.12
0.17
0.20
0.21

0.22
0.18
0.21
0.11
0.24
0.19
0.23
0.10
0.20
0.17
0.19
0.13
0.23
0.19
0.20
0.12
0.24
0.19
0.14
0.10

11.34***
9.58***
10.95***
5.96***
8.58***
6.81***
8.35***
3.58***
7.36***
6.61***
7.06***
4.88***
9.87***
8.83***
8.63***
5.42***
6.63***
5.35***
3.92***
2.66**

***p < 0.001; **p < 0.01.

levels of these four variables for students, the higher the level of the academic burnout they
experienced.
Third, the regression equation can relate the dependent variable to the independent variables
clearly. When the data have been normalized to eliminate the constant, the following equation better allows us to see the relative contributions of the independent variables
Predicted academic burnout = (0.22 self-identity stress) +
(0.18 interpersonal stress) + (0.21 future development stress) +
(0.11 academic stress)
The R 2 values can indicate the extent to which the dependent variable correlates with the independent variables on the right side of the equation. The change in the R 2 value after each independent variable is included in the stepwise regression indicates the relative effect of each of the
variable.
R2
R2
R2
R2

after self-identity stress is included: 0.15


after interpersonal stress is included: 0.21 (change = 0.06)
after future development stress is included: 0.24 (change = 0.03)
after academic stress is included: 0.25 (change = 0.01)

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When the data were divided into male and female groups and stepwise multiple regression
analysis was carried out on each of these groups separately, the same four factors emerged in both
equations. Similarly, when the data were divided into lower year and upper year groups, the separate regressions had the same but different order life stressors as significant predictors of high
levels of burnout for both groups. Table 3 presents the summary statistics of the multivariate stepwise regression analysis. Notably, the most significant predictor for upper year students was the
future development stress; whereas it was the self-identity stress for other groups. Overall,
the self-identity stress, interpersonal stress, future development stress, and academic stress were
the four most significant life stressors.

Conclusion
The first of the questions inquired about the status of academic burnout and life stresses among
students. The results showed that both the level of student burnout and stress are in general not
serious among these students. The second question inquired about differences in academic burnout and life stresses among different gender and different years. Some differences in factors of
stress by gender and years were found, and overall, students reported future development
stress to be the greatest. This finding is consistent with previous research (Chu et al., 2006; Lee
and Chen, 2004; Shi, 2004; Tsai, 2005), indicating that students worry about their future.
This study also found that self-identity stress, interpersonal stress, future development
stress, and academic stress could jointly predict student academic burnout. Surprisingly, family
stress and emotional stress were not statistically significant predictors of academic burnout. It can
be observed from the means of the six sources of stresses, that family stress and emotional stress
were the lowest two. Their mean scores for all students were under 2.00, indicating that students
experienced little family or emotional stress. This may explain why academic burnout only correlated with the other four kinds of stress. Nevertheless, an indirect conclusion could be that heavy
life stresses of any form may bring about academic burnout.
Research has shown a significant correlation between life stress and academic burnout of college students (Huang and Lin, 2010). The study described here shows not only similar results but
also adds to our knowledge further in that some factors of stress could jointly predict student academic burnout. That is, some factors of stress will lead students to feel exhausted, to have a cynical
and detached attitude toward their study, and to make feel incompetent as a student. This result
suggests that one of the causes of academic burnout may be the inability of students to handle
certain life stresses. In common with Rainey (1999) and others, results from the study described
here support findings in work-related burnout. As we know, the syndrome of student burnout is
similar to employees who are employed in professions where they have to help people; whether a
worker or a student, certain life stresses can predict individual burnout.
There are some limitations which may influence the generalization of these results. First, the
allocation of participants was not uniform across the 4 years of study. With regard to year, the
majority of participants (71%) were students from the lower year group (freshmen and sophomores). This might affect the conclusions drawn on differences related to year. Second, this study
was carried out in Taiwan, and thus, one has to be cautious in generalizing the results to school
contexts in other countries. Finally, the data collection for this study is cross sectional, and thus, it
is not possible to discern causal relationships. A further limitation may be due to errors in recall of
the exposure and, possibly, outcome.
The results of this study suggest implications for those of us in higher educational settings.
Given the detrimental effects of stress on learning (especially, self-identity stress, interpersonal
stress, future development stress, and academic stress), faculty members, counselors, and others

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who engage with students could give more guidance by encouraging students to face the possible
causes of their stress, and by assisting them in finding effective coping strategies. Institutions also
need to check whether or not what they are doing creates academic or other stress to students.
Teachers might consider developing curriculum around student interests and replacing traditional
examinations with summative projects that allow for authentic assessment. College administrators
should consider incorporating stress management training into orientation activities. An intervention program could be developed in order to help reduce increases in life stress and/or help them to
cope with emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and inefficacy. For example, universities could
add stress management courses to the required courses, or incorporate the concept of stress
management into other courses, and try to instruct students about how to better handle life stresses
including teaching them coping strategies.
In addition, students should also be informed of the campus resources available to help them
address these. A better way may be the use of a stress management workshop specifically geared
to the stressors encountered, more specifically, to help juniors and seniors prepare their future
career plans, and provide necessary assistance in their pursuit of further education and employment. Stress may not be eliminated, but we can and should do a better job preparing our students
to manage it. An improved understanding of the relationship between life stresses and student
burnout is important because such knowledge could potentially be offered to university counseling
centers for designing or improving their intervention programs.
Future studies should be proactive in maintaining a balance of participants on the basis of different year. Causal interpretations would be strengthened by longitudinal follow-up (assessing
change in life stress against change in academic burnout). That is, future research could also examine how or whether life stresses and burnout change over time and what might influence such a
change. Furthermore, longitudinal studies would be helpful in assessing the change, if any, in life
stresses from high school to university and in clarifying the role, if any, life stresses play in the
development of academic burnout. Finally, our study is an initial research; it only focuses on the
exploration about the discussed variables. Analogous to the finding of occupational burnout, student personality traits maybe affect their academic burnout. Future research is needed as to the
variables which might act as predictors or moderators.
Funding
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit
sectors.

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Author biographies
Shu-Hui Lin is a Professor in the Department of Insurance and Finance at the National Taichung Institute of
Technology, Taiwan. She has a Doctorate in statistics. Her research mainly focuses on statistical methodology, statistical applications, college student education, psychology, and counseling. Address: Department of

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Insurance and Finance, National Taichung University of Science and Technology, 129 Sec.3, Sanmin Road,
Taichung City 404, Taiwan, R.O.C. Phone: 886-4-22196108. [email: suelin@nutc.edu.tw]
Yun-Chen Huang is an Associate Professor in the Department and Graduate School of Accounting Information
at the National Taichung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan. She has a Masters degree in applied
mathematics. Her research interests include student retention, student engagement, student decision making,
adult literacy, language and numeracy, and self-assessment. Address: Department & Graduate School of
Accounting Information, National Taichung University of Science and Technology, 129 Sec.3, Sanmin Road,
Taichung City 404, Taiwan, R.O.C. Phone: 886-4-22196028. [email: minnie@nutc.edu.tw]

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