What is Anxiety?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2018), students pursuing higher education has increased over the years, from 35 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2016. Of those students we also see an increase of anxiety of 6.7 percent in 2000 to 12.9 percent in 2013 (Mahmoud, Staten, Lennie, & Hall, 2015).
Anxiety is a normal state of fear, hyper-vigilance or tension a person feels when they are in a stressful or threatening situation, where one’s senses, both physical and mental, are heightened to combat a threat, which is imperative for survival. It becomes abnormal anxiety when there is no clear reason for the person to feel threatened and causes emotional and physical discomfort.
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There are different tools to measure anxiety, such as the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). The STAI is a 40-question survey that the patient fills out, 20 questions for each of the two scales: state and trait. State, referring to how the patient feels at that moment, it uses statements that measure feelings of worry, tension, nervousness, and if there is an arousal of the autonomic nervous system, using a scale of 1 (not at all) to 4 (very much so). Trait measures the general feelings of confidence and security the patient feels, using a scale of 1 (almost never) to 4 (almost always). State anxiety is dependent on trait anxiety and the stressful situation the person may be in (Endler & Kocovski, 2001).
There are many factors that can lead to the rise of anxiety in college students ranging from culture and parent expectations, to homesickness, to academic pressures like exam taking and time management, as well as grades and the amount of material covered in a semester, and whether the student has a job. Beiter et al. (2015) found that the 10 sources of concern that caused the most anxiety, stress, and depression in college students were academic performance, pressure to succeed, post-graduation plans, financial concerns, quality of sleep, relationship with friends, relationship with family, overall health, body image, and self-esteem. Roos et al. (2015) found that high achievers are well adapted to the classroom because of lower levels of trait and state anxiety in comparison to low achievers, who have reported greater levels of trait anxiety.
The study that we conducted was to measure state and trait anxiety of 88 students in class and whether the level of anxiety reported was influenced by the year in college the participant was in, the number of credits registered, the number of hours of work a week, and their GPA. The participants were asked to partner up and ask their partner the questions on the STAI survey (Range, 2013) as well as a basic information survey of 16 questions about the participant.
I hypothesize that the participants with higher GPAs will have a lower state anxiety as previous research has shown (Roos et al. 2015), that state and trait anxiety are related in such a way that a participant with a high state anxiety score will also have a high trait anxiety score as research from Endler & Kocovski, (2001) has shown. My hypothesis is that freshman/seniors will have higher state anxiety than sophomores/juniors.
Participants included 88 college students (26 men, 62 women) with ages ranging from 19 to 46 (M=24.36, SD=4.408) in a South Florida undergraduate research methods course. The author (EM) was in included in the participants.
Basic Information Questionnaire.
This questionnaire consisted of 16 questions used to determine the correlation of demographics and anxiety in our sample. The questions collected data about education: current college year, GPA, and credits taken in current semester; employment: employed or unemployed, how many hours a week worked, and occupation; cultural background: race, ethnicity, and country of birth; date of birth; sex.
Originally Raymond Cattel, a British psychologist, created a state-trait distinction which was later expanded on and developed into the STAI by an American psychologist, Charles Spielberger. In 1970 Spielberger produced it, joined by Richard L. Gorsuch, Robert Lushene, Peter R. Vagg, and Gerald A. Jacobs.
The STAI is used in clinical settings, including pre- and post- therapy appointments and pre- and post- administration of medication.
“Item scores are added to obtain subset total scores. Scoring should be reversed for anxiety-absent items (19 items out of the total 40)” (Julian, 2011). The range of scores for the STAI is from 20 to 80, where the higher scores indicate a higher level of anxiety. Clinically significant symptoms for the State-Anxiety scale has a range of 39 to 40.
Test-retest reliability coefficients ranged from 0.31 to 0.86 on initial development. The S-Anxiety scale had lower test-retest coefficients than the T-Anxiety scale, since the S-Anxiety scale distinguishes transitory states.
Over 10,000 adolescents and adults were tested during the development of the STAI. “…most items were selected from other anxiety measures on the basis of strong associations with the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale (13) and Cattel and Scheier’s Anxiety Scale Questionnaire (14); overall correlations between the STAI and these 2 measures were 0.73 and 0.85, respectfully.” (Julian, 2011).
Participants were told to find a partner to work with and once given the Basic Information Questionnaire and the STAI worksheets, they were to write down their partners information rather than their own. The participants took turns reading aloud and recording their partners answers of the questions and statements of both surveys. Participants took approximately 10 minutes to complete both the Basic Information Questionnaire and the STAI.
Two correlation tests were conducted, one to illustrate whether there was a relationship with state anxiety and trait anxiety, and the other to disclose an association between state anxiety and college GPA.
State and trait anxiety proved to have a significant correlation, r (86) = 0.739, p =0.000, and a strong positive correlation, signifying that those with high levels of state anxiety also had high levels of trait anxiety. In addition, state anxiety and GPA were significantly correlated, r (86) = -0.27, p = 0.011, but were found to have a moderate negative correlation, indicating that those with higher GPAs tend to have lower levels of state anxiety. Refer to Table 1.
To investigate whether those in their freshman and senior years of college experience more state anxiety than those in their sophomore and junior years of college, and independent t-test was used. The findings were significant, t (86) = -1.93, p = 0.029, though it showed that those in their sophomore and junior years (M = 38.44, SD = 8.02) reported higher levels of state anxiety than those in their freshman and senior years (M = 36.50, SD = 8.72). Refer to Figure 1.
Anxiety in college students and how it is correlated to age and GPA was studied using the STAI. We found significant correlation between GPA and state anxiety, as well significant correlation between state anxiety and trait anxiety. We found that sophomore and juniors experience higher levels of state anxiety than freshman and seniors.
The hypothesizes tested were: students with higher GPAs will have lower anxiety scores, state and trait anxiety are related so that a student with a high state anxiety will also have a high trait anxiety, and that state anxiety in freshman/senior years will have high state anxiety than those in sophomore/junior years.
The results support the hypothesis of students with higher GPAs will have lower anxiety scores. The results also support that state and trait anxiety are positively correlated. My hypothesis of freshmen and seniors having higher state anxiety than sophomores and juniors was not supported; results showed that sophomores and juniors reported higher state anxiety. This could be because as sophomores and juniors they are worried about either keeping their grades up or improving on their less than admirable grades.