Psychological Capital as a Buffer to Student Stress


This study examined the influence of psychological capital (PsyCap), on the well-being of university un- dergraduates during an academic semester. PsyCap, a recently developed, higher-order construct, applied to the world of work has been hypothesized to aid employees cope with stressors in the workplace. The current study extends this concept to work in the academic environment. Psychological capital is hypothesized to empower students with the necessary metal strength to cope up with adverse circumstances. Among undergraduate students from a university in the Western US, Psychological Capital (PsyCap) mediated between stress and indices of psychological and physical well-being. In the case of Psychological Symptoms and Health Problems, PsyCap buffered the impact of stress so that the relationship between stress and negative outcomes was reduced. In the case of Satisfaction with Life, PsyCap augmented a positive psychological outcome. We discuss implications for research on resilience to academic stress, the power of the PsyCap construct to effect positive psychological outcomes in a variety of student situations, and implications for educators in developing and promoting positive outcomes based on this valuable personal capital.

Share and Cite:

Riolli, L. , Savicki, V. & Richards, J. (2012). Psychological Capital as a Buffer to Student Stress. Psychology, 3, 1202-1207. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.312A178.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Abouserie, R. (1994). Sources and levels of stress in relation to locus of control and self-esteem in university students. Educational Psycho- logy, 14, 323-330. doi:10.1080/0144341940140306
[2] Adlaf, E. M., Gliksman, L., Demers, A., & Newton-Taylor, B. (2001). The prevalence of elevated psychological distress among Canadian undergraduates: Findings from the 1998 Canadian campus survey. Journal of American College Health, 50, 67-72. doi:10.1080/07448480109596009
[3] Avey, J. B., Luthans, F., Smith, R. M., & Palmer, N. F. (2010). Impact of positive psychological capital on employee well-being over time. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 15, 17-28. doi:10.1037/a0016998
[4] Avey, J. B., Reichard, R. J., Luthans, F., & Mhatre, K. H. (2011). Meta-analysis of the impact of positive psychological capital on employee attitudes, behaviors, and performance. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 22, 127-152. doi:10.1002/hrdq.20070
[5] Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 1173-1182. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.51.6.1173
[6] Block, J., & Kremen, A. M. (1996). IQ and ego-resiliency: Conceptual and empirical connections and separateness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 349-361. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.70.2.349
[7] Bowler, M (2009). Dropouts loom large for schools. US News and World Report. URL (last checked 29 May 2010).
[8] Burris, J. L., Brechting, E. H., Salsman, J., & Carlson, C. R. (2009). Factors associated with the psychological well-being and distress of university students. Journal of American College Health, 57, 536-543. doi:10.3200/JACH.57.5.536-544
[9] Brissette, I., Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (2002). The role of optimism in social network development, coping, and psychological adjustment during a life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 102-115. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.82.1.102
[10] Carveth, J. A., Gesse, T., & Moss, N. (1996). Survival strategies for nurse-midwifery students. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 41, 50-54. doi:10.1016/0091-2182(95)00072-0
[11] Cavanaugh, M. A., Boswell, W. R., Roehling, M. V., & Boudreau, J. W. (2000). An empirical examination of self-reported work stress among US managers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 65-74. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.85.1.65
[12] Chang, E. C. (1998). Does dispositional optimism moderate the relation between perceived stress and psychological well being? A prelimi- nary investigation. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 233- 240. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(98)00028-2
[13] Culbertson, S. S., Mills, M. J., & Fullagar, C. J. (2010). Feeling good and doing great: The relatinship between psychological capital and well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 15, 421-433. doi:10.1037/a0020720
[14] Derogatis, L. R., & Melisaratos, N. (1983). The brief symptom invent- tory: An introductory report. Psychological Medicine, 13, 595-605. doi:10.1017/S0033291700048017
[15] Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71-75. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa4901_13
[16] Engs, R. C., & Aldo-Benson, M. (1995). The association of alcohol consumption with self-reported illness in university students. Psy- chological Reports, 76, 727-736. doi:10.2466/pr0.1995.76.3.727
[17] Ferguson, E. Matthews, G., & Cox, T. (1999). The appraisal of life events (ALE) scale: Reliability and validity. British Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 97-116. doi:10.1348/135910799168506
[18] Hirsch, J. K., & Ellis, J. B. (1996). Differences in life stress and reasons for living among college suicide ideators and non-ideators. College Student Journal, 30, 377-384.
[19] Houghton, J. D., Wu, J. P., Jeffrey, L. G., Christopher, P. N., & Charles, C. M. (2012). Effective stress management. Journal of Management Education, 36, 220-238. doi:10.1177/1052562911430205
[20] Kohn, J. P., & Frazer, G. H. (1986). An academic stress scale: Identifi- cation and rated importance of academic stressors. Psychological Reports, 59, 415-426. doi:10.2466/pr0.1986.59.2.415
[21] Lepine, J. A., Podsakoff, N. P., & Lepine, M. A. (2005). A meta-ana- lytic test of the challenge stressor-hindrance stressor framework: An explanation for inconsistent relationships among stressors and per- formance. Academy of Management Journal, 48, 764-775. doi:10.5465/AMJ.2005.18803921
[22] Luthans, F., Avey, J. B., Avolio, B. J., Norman, S. M., & Combs, G. M. (2006). Psychological capital development: Toward a micro-inter- vention. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 387-393. doi:10.1002/job.373
[23] Luthans, F., Avey, J.B., & Patera, J. L. (2008). Experimental analysis of a web-based training intervention to develop positive psycho- logical capital. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 7, 209-221. doi:10.5465/AMLE.2008.32712618
[24] Luthans, F., Avolio, B. J., Avey, J. B., & Norman, S. M. (2007). Positive psychological capital: Measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 60, 541-572. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00083.x
[25] Luthans, F., Youssef, C. M., & Avolio, B. J. (2007). Psychological capital. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
[26] Murphy, M. C., & Archer, J. (1996). Stressors on the college campus: A comparison of 1985-1993. Journal of College Student Develop- ment, 37, 20-28.
[27] Peterson, S. J., Walumbwa, F. O., Byron, K., & Myrowitz, J. (2009). CEO positive psychological traits, transformational leadership, and firm performance in high technology start-up and established firms. Journal of Management, 35, 348-368. doi:10.1177/0149206307312512
[28] Roddenberry, A., & Kimberly, R. (2010). Locus of control and self-efficacy: Potential mediators of stress, illness, and utilization of health services in college students. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 41, 353-370. doi:10.1007/s10578-010-0173-6
[29] Roeser, R. W., Eccles, J. S., & Sameroff, A. J. (2000). School as a context of early adolescents’ academic and social-emotional deve- lopment: A summary of research findings. The Elementary School Journal, 100, 443-471. doi:10.1086/499650
[30] Ross, S. E., Niebling, B. C., & Heckett, T. M. (1999). Sources of stress among college students. College Student Journal, 33, 316-318.
[31] Sax, L. J. (1997). Health trends among college freshmen. Journal of American College Health, 45, 252-262. doi:10.1080/07448481.1997.9936895
[32] Schaufeli, W. B., Martinez, I. M., Marques-Pinto, A., Salanova, M., & Bakker, A. (2002). Burnout and engagement in university students: A cross-national study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33, 464-481. doi:10.1177/0022022102033005003
[33] Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1985) Optimism, coping, and health: Assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies. Health Psychology, 4, 219-247. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.4.3.219
[34] Seligman, M. E. P. (1998). Learned optimism. New York: Pocket Books.
[35] Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psycho- logy: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5
[36] Sgan-Cohen, H. D., & Lowental, U. (1988). Sources of stress among Israeli dental students. The Journal of the American College Health Association, 36, 317-321. doi:10.1080/07448481.1988.9939027
[37] Snyder, C. R., Cheavens, J., & Sympson, S. C. (1997). Hope: An individual motive for social competence. Group Dynamics Theory, Research, and Practice, 1, 107-118. doi:10.1037/1089-2699.1.2.107
[38] Snyder, C. R., Irving, L., & Anderson, J. R. (1991). Hope and health: Measuring the will and the ways. In C. R. Snyder, & D. R. Forsyth (Eds.), Handbook of social and clinical psychology: The health perspective (pp. 285-305). Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.
[39] Stallman, H. M. (2010). Psychological distress in university students: A comparison with general population data. Australian Psychologist, 45, 249-257. doi:10.1080/00050067.2010.482109
[40] Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional exper- iences. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 86, 320-333. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.86.2.320
[41] Youssef, C., & Luthans, F. (2007). Positive organizational behavior in the workplace: The impact of hope, optimism, and resilience. Journal of Management, 33, 774-800. doi:10.1177/0149206307305562
[42] Wright, J. J. (1964). Environmental stress evaluation in a student community. The Journal of the American College Health Association, 12, 325-336.

Copyright © 2022 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.