Anxiety And Its Effect On Self-esteem

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Humans are cognizant of others' actions and opinions and are therefore susceptible to others' evaluations. The urge to appear publicly acceptable and conform to societal norms has likely caused lower self-esteem in this generation. Leary (1999) states that sociometer theory suggests that self-esteem is a method of monitoring social acceptance and avoiding public rejection; therefore, self-esteem acts as a protective measure that warns of potential social devaluation so corrective actions can be taken to mediate the problem. Considering positive social interactions are linked to emotional well-being, consistent negative interactions with others or oneself can lead to an overwhelming number of psychological issues. Self-esteem is lowered by failure, criticism, rejection and other outcomes that could lead to further devaluation of self-worth. Fox (1997) found that low self-esteem is known to cause a wide array of psychological issues such as social avoidance while high self-esteem increases coping skills. Self-esteem likely acts as a feedback loop, where positive social interactions lead to and maintain self-esteem while negative social interactions stop or hinder it.

The transition from secondary school to university is overwhelming and requires the evaluation and acceptance of one's competence and abilities. If the student believes he/she is the right fit for the school, he/she may feel nervous, worried, or uneasy. Furthermore, it is likely that anxiety while choosing a suitable university and major can also lead to self-esteem problems. For example, consider a student who believes he/she should not belong at X university or Y major. He/she is likely to have problems finding positive social interactions among other students and can also lead to a drop in academic performance. Continuous lack of interaction and personal academic failure can further perpetuate low self-esteem.

According to Seleh et al. (2017) anxiety is characterized by the feeling of unease and nervousness for an uncertain outcome. This can affect academic performance and persistence and are more likely to higher dropout rates. Seleh et al. (2017) also found that students with higher levels of anxiety were more likely to have mental health symptoms and low self-esteem. Anxiety is likely prevalent for students who rest their self-worth on the opinions of others. Because college students are transitioning from adolescence into adulthood, they might be more emotionally prone to the thoughts of others. If a student does not believe in his/her abilities, then it could lower self-esteem and his/her overall ability to maintain his/her current self-esteem. McClain (2016) states that those in minority groups who are successful in college might feel anxiety from expected judgment from other groups. Therefore, it is likely that increased anxiety levels due to a variety of factors in college age students increases stress levels in these students. Furthermore, it is likely that increased stress levels further perpetuate increased levels of anxiety.

This study utilizes the Perceived Fraudulence Scale (PFS) and self-report measures (Kolligian & Sternberg, 1991). The PFS is used to determine anxiety and other factors that could affect self-esteem. Another self-report survey is given that asks a question about behaviors that may affect anxiety. The survey has a 5-point scale that ranges from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The self-report survey is discrete with an interval level of measurement. Self-esteem is measured through the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Sinclair et al., 2010). The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is discrete with an interval level of measurement.

This study utilizes a correlation research design. To experimentally manipulate the independent variable, the research must alter the amount of nail-biting a person does, amount of sleep, and the number of social events participants miss. Due to constraints to manipulate the independent variable, for ethical reasons, a correlational research design is the best fit for determining a relationship between the two constructs. Furthermore, it's unlikely that anxiety is the sole factor that can cause self-esteem levels, so instead of looking for a cause-effect relationship, a strong or weak level of correlation should be determined first. Therefore, the Anxiety survey consisted of one question pertaining to anxiety only.

If self-perceived levels of anxiety are highly associated with the environment in specific universities and majors, then those who exhibit high levels of symptoms in those groups score lower on the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale.

Possible threats to internal validity are other factors that are associated with anxiety. For example, the type of major may significantly affect how much workload a person has and has the possibility of increased anxiety because of it. To mitigate this error, the study can separate students based on specific demographics such as majors and universities. Furthermore, students who are depressed in college could inadvertently affect the results as they may feel stress from being depressed. Each participant can take a depression test to determine if it influences data. Otherwise, the extra testing may induce anxiety in the participant. Anxiety can be operationalized in multiple fashions and the factors that aren't considered may affect the results. For example, those with anxiety may bite their nails and feel itchy but there could be symptoms that aren't known for some anxious participants; the resources to mitigate the problem outweigh the possible benefits. Problems could arise in the survey portion where participants may not answer accurately because of social pressures to feel normal.

High external validity is not feasible because of the conditions of the study to increase internal validity. Separating the participants into different demographics to account for workload decreases the overall external validity as a single group cannot be used to generalize everyone in all universities. To separate depressed participants from non-depressed participants, we cannot generalize the results for everyone as there could be moderately depressed students. By not accounting for every operationalizable variable that could characterize anxiety, external validity increases. However, to improve external validity, random sampling and selection is utilized to increase generalizability of the population. Furthermore, by utilizing multiple university’s and increasing diversity of the study, the more likely that this data can be generalized to multiple other universities.

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The population is composed of college students attending four-year universities on the eastern coast of the Americas. Because of the high social demand and emotional transition from adolescence to adulthood, college and college-bound students are likely to feel anxiety from leaving home for long periods. Four-year universities are the most common types of schools and eliminating other types of schools increases the internal validity of the study. Furthermore, the eastern coast of the United States is chosen for convenience and reduces the chances that other regions may have drastically different school curriculum that could affect anxiety levels.

Stratified sampling is utilized in this study to assure the proper number of participants fit each demographic equally. This is to reduce sampling error and decrease variability in the study. The groups consist of majors such as Computer Science, Psychology, Economics, Business, Biology, Math, Physics, and English. In these groups, there are also subgroups consisting of Universities, such as the University of Maryland, Cornell, Penn State, Boston University, Boston College, and Towson. A total of N = 1000 participants is sampled from ten universities and ten majors. Each group contains g =100 participants and each subgroup contains sg =10 participants. Booths are placed at each university to advertise the study and each prospective participant is asked to provide demographic information. A subgroup for a group may contain more participants than needed; therefore, an online random number generator is used to randomly select participants from the overflowed subgroup.

To assure participant public safety, the data received is encrypted and uploaded to a remote database. Because anxiety is a personal issue, each participant can skip parts of questions or withhold information. Furthermore, to maintain anonymity, participants are encouraged not to provide their names for each survey and can take the surveys at home.



A total of 1654 applied and 667 were disqualified from the study due to their specific major or University. Those who did not fit into one of the predefined majors and Universities for this study were disqualified. 987 undergraduate students from College Park, Cornell, Penn State, Boston University, Boston College, Towson, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, American University participated in the study. Of those 987 undergraduate students, they were separated into their corresponding majors: Computer Science, Psychology, Economics, Business, Biology, Math, Physics, English, Public Policy, and Chemistry. 832 of them reported their gender: 453 males and 379 females. 543 reported their race: 40% white, 20% black, 20% Asian, and 20% Hispanic. Participants were recruited through online advertisements or booths placed at each University. Subjects were compensated $20 for their time.


Informed consent forms briefed participants of the study’s purpose (to measure the effects of anxiety on self-esteem) and explained the nuances of participating in the study: participation was voluntary, and all responses remained confidential. Two surveys were utilized in the study and were online and followed similar formatting provided by the University of Maryland Qualtrics survey builder. Each survey prompted the reader to read the questions and respond accordingly to how they felt during the week when the survey was taken.

The Rosenberg Self Esteem Survey contains 10 questions that asked the participant how he/she feels about him/herself. The questions follow a Likert Scale which has evenly balanced answer choices: there is an equal amount of negative and positive choices. The Rosenberg Self Esteem Survey contains 5 different choices: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. Different question responses were summed to create a score for a construct and each response is equally spaced from each other. The Anxiety Survey contains 1 question that asked the participants about how he/she feels about future events. A scale from 1-10 is used and participants can use their mouse to move the score up and down the scale. Participants were able to skip this part if they were uncomfortable. However, their data were excluded from the study.

All participants were plotted on a self-esteem to anxiety chart, and a regression for the data was determined. The correlation coefficient was used to determine if a relationship existed between anxiety and stress. For each major, all the participants were plotted on a self-esteem to anxiety chart and a regression for the data was determined. The correlation coefficient from the regression was used as a method of comparing other majors' correlation coefficient. For each University, all the participants from every major were plotted on a self-esteem to anxiety chart and a regression for the data was determined. The correlation coefficient from the regression was used as a method of comparing to other Universities’ correlation coefficient.


Each participant was able to take the electronic survey wherever they wanted. However, the suggested time was during the afternoon; this was to removed confounding factors. Furthermore, participants were told to take the surveys on a laptop or desktop to make the surveys easier to read and answer. At the beginning of each survey, subjects were prompted with an informed consent form to be read and electronically signed. Participants were then given the surveys to complete and upon completion, via hitting the submit button, results were confidentially recorded on the study's database. The data was examined a couple of months after the surveys were issued to the participants.


The study utilized a correlation research design via surveys that assessed participant self-esteem and anxiety levels. The Rosenberg Self Esteem Survey (Appendix B) asks questions about how the participant feels about his/her self-esteem and the Anxiety Survey (Appendix A) asks one question on how the participant felt about their anxiety levels. The surveys were graded with a Likert scale. The participants' anxiety is the independent variable and the quasi-independent variables are the major and university that the participants chose and attended, respectively. Each major and University had their self-esteem to anxiety correlation chart. The score on the Anxiety Survey was correlated with the score on the Rosenberg Self Esteem Survey. A p-value of p > 0.10 is considered statistically significant. To reiterate, is it possible that mounting anxiety from students decreases self-perceived self-esteem?


  1. Fox, K. R. (1997). The physical self and processes in self-esteem development.
  2. Kolligian Jr, J., & Sternberg, R. J. (1991). Perceived Fraudulence in Young Adults: Is There an'Imposter Syndrome'?. Journal of personality assessment, 56(2), 308-326.
  3. Leary, M. R. (1999). Making sense of self-esteem. Current directions in psychological science, 8(1), 32-35.
  4. Lige, Q. M., Peteet, B. J., & Brown, C. M. (2017). Racial identity, self-esteem, and the impostor phenomenon among African American college students. Journal of Black Psychology, 43(4), 345-357.
  5. Nordstrom, A. H., Goguen, L. M. S., & Hiester, M. (2014). The effect of social anxiety and self‐esteem on college adjustment, academics, and retention. Journal of College Counseling, 17(1), 48-63.
  6. Saleh, D., Camart, N., & Romo, L. (2017). Predictors of stress in college students. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 19.
  7. Sinclair, S. J., Blais, M. A., Gansler, D. A., Sandberg, E., Bistis, K., & LoCicero, A. (2010). Psychometric Properties of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale: Overall and Across Demographic Groups Living Within the United States. Evaluation & the Health Professions, 33(1), 56–80.
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Anxiety And Its Effect On Self-esteem. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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