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CARUTHERS, N.D. (1998). Stress and Self-esteem. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 1. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 9, 2023 .

Stress and Self-esteem
mwsc psychology

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
The present study examined whether or not there was a correlation between people`s level of self-esteem and how they perceive stress. Fifteen college students participated and were given two pencil and paper surveys. One was given on stress and one on self-esteem. The tests were then analyzed to see if there was any correlation. The correlation was found to be very low suggesting that self-esteem may have little or nothing to do with how people perceive their levels of stress. The literature suggests that there are other factors that may influence levels of self-esteem other than stress.

In reviewing the literature it was found that several studies have been done to correlate self-esteem and stress. Studies have suggested that there is a negative relationship between self-esteem and stress. It was also found that self-esteem appears to moderate the effects of stress on psychological functioning. Individuals with low self-esteem exhibit more distress from negative events than those with high self-esteem. High self-esteem may protect the individual from distress by allowing the individual to feel less vulnerable and be more able to bounce back from stressful situations. High self-esteem may also result in more active and effective coping and in enhanced motivation in response to stress (Abel, 1996). In an article by Kreger (1995), it was hypothesized, after reviewing some studies, that scores on self-esteem may act like attributional style in predicting the effects of stress and that perceived stress may be more related to self-esteem than to actual stressfulness of a situation. After conducting a study on this hypothesis, it was found to be supported by the data, that stress inversely correlated with self-esteem. (Kreger, 1995).

According to another study, researchers found that there is a strong relationship between how someone copes with stress and self-esteem. It was also found in the same article in another study, that the article made reference to, that people with low self-esteem are more likely to view their behavior as being dependent on the situation while people with high self-esteem have a greater capacity to engage in a wide range of coping behaviors (Smith, Zhan, Hunington, Washington, 1992).

This article also asked the question, why do people with low self-esteem tend to make their coping responses so situation-dependent. It has been suggested that self-esteem influences coping because it is so strongly related to personal attributions for different events and outcomes (Smith, et al., 1992).

The study in this article attempted to research the relationship between self-esteem, self-concept clarity, and the subjects preferred coping styles when faced with stressful events and situations. They chose a group of college undergraduates as their participants for the study. Researchers hypothesized that (1) higher self-esteem would be related to clearer self-concept, (2) a clearer self-concept would be related to more positive coping styles while an unclear self-concept would be related to more negative coping styles. They found that self-concept clarity exerts a stronger influence on a person`s ability to cope with stress than the influence exerted by self-esteem (Smith, et al., 1992).

In another article a study was done comparing the relationship between coping styles, self-concept, and stress. The coping styles researched in this study were optimism versus defensive-pessimism. These coping strategies have been thought to protect self-esteem from threatening situations. The purpose of their study (1) was to see if using different cognitive coping strategies experience different levels of perceived stress, (2) and also to see what components of the self might these coping strategies be striving to defend or maintain (Morrison, 1991).

Their study suggests instead of assuming that coping styles are protection for self-esteem, they are just as likely to protect weak facets of the self. Researchers also found that defensive-pessimists and those without consistent coping strategies show themselves to be more stressed than optimists. Female optimists are more satisfied with their skills for handling stress than are defensive-pessimists and those without consistent coping strategies. Optimists coping strategies coincide with less stress. Males, with the exception of the optimists feeling less stressed than those without consistent coping strategies, coping style differences do not reflect differences in satisfaction (Morrison, 1991).

In reviewing another article investigating the relationships among self-esteem enhancing and self-esteem threatening relationships, life stress, perceived social support, and psychological symptoms through the use of new measures of esteem enhancing and esteem threatening relationships. It was hypothesized that esteem enhancement would relate positively to global self-esteem and negatively to psychological symptoms and esteem threat would have the opposite relations consistent with the threat to self-esteem model. It was also hypothesized that the esteem enhancement and threat measures would account for significant variance in self-esteem and psychological symptoms beyond demographic, life stress, and social support measures. Researchers hypothesized that these measures would be uncorrelated with each other because other measures of positive and negative social ties are largely uncorrelated. They found that esteem threat was associated with psychological symptoms independent of stress, social support, and demographic variables. Both esteem enhancement and esteem threat made independent contributions to predicting global self-esteem after controlling for initial levels of global self-esteem (Short, Sandler, Roosa, 1996).

Overall, according to most of the literature researched, self-esteem has little to do with how people deal with or perceive the levels of stress in their lives. It has more to do with other factors such as coping styles and self-concept. However, the purpose of this study was to replicate the findings of studies already done to retest the hypothesis that people who have high self-esteem perceive themselves to have lower levels of stress than those with low self-esteem and people who have low self-esteem perceive themselves to have high levels of stress than those with high self-esteem.


The participants for this study were 15 college students. This was a convenience sample consisting of 15 participants. Race, gender and age were not controlled for.

Two pencil and paper tests were used, one on stress called the Life Experiences Survey (Appendix A) and one on self-esteem called _________(Appendix B). Each survey was assigned a letter that was written at the top of each one corresponding to each other. The tests were correlated to see if there was a relationship and to what degree do stress and self-esteem correlate.

Data were collected by one researcher. Both surveys were given to all of the participants.


The test data were collected and analyzed by doing a bivariate correlation on SPSS comparing stress and self-esteem. The correlation between stress and self-esteem was found to be insignificant r (15)=.011, p > .05. It was found that self-esteem may have little or nothing to do with how people perceive their levels of stress.


The purpose of this study was to see if people who have high self-esteem perceive themselves to have lower levels of stress than those with low self-esteem and people who have low self-esteem perceive themselves to have high levels of stress than those with high self-esteem. Contrary to the hypothesis researchers did not find a significant difference between people`s level of self-esteem and how they perceive stress. However, the findings from this study went along with the findings found in the literature that was cited. It was found that people`s level of self-esteem has little or nothing to do with how people perceive stress.

The fact that little correlation was found was probably do in part to a small sample size and also the fact that some people didn`t seem to understand the directions of the surveys and the surveys were lengthy. In the future, if this study was to be done again the sample size should be larger, simpler directions and shorter surveys.


Abel, M.H. (1996). Self-esteem: Moderator of mediator between perceived stress and expectancy of success. Psychological Reports, 79, 635-641.

Kreger, D.W. (1995). Self-esteem, stress, and depression among graduate students. Psychological Reports, 76, 345-346.

Morrison, C.R. (1991). Academic coping styles, self-concept, and stress. 1-24.

Short, J.L. & Sandler, I.N. & Roosa, M.W. (1996). Adolescents` perceptions of social support: The role of esteem enhancing and esteem threatening relationships. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 15, 397-416.

Smith, M.C. (1992). Is clarity of self-concept related to preferred coping styles? 1-24.

Take as much time as you need to answer each of the questions. On average the test takes about fifteen minutes. There are no right or wrong answers. It is important that you take the test before you read the analysis which follows it, in order to assure that your answer will not be biased.

Read the description of each situation and vividly imagine it happening to you. You have probably not experienced some of the situations, but that doesn`t matter. Perhaps neither response will seem to fit; go ahead anyway and circle either A or B, choosing the cause likelier to apply to you. You may not like the way some of the responses sound, but don`t choose what you think you should say or what would sound right to other people; choose the response you`d be likelier to have.

Circle only one response for each question. Ignore the letter and number codes for now.

1. The project you are in charge of is a great success

A. I kept a close watch over everyone`s work.

B. Everyone devoted a lot of time and energy to it.

2. You and your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) make up after a fight.

A. I forgave him/her.

B. I`m usually forgiving.

3. You get lost driving to a friend`s house.

A. I missed a turn.

B. My friend gave me bad directions.

4. Your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) surprises you with a gift.

A. He/she just got a raise at work.

B. I took him/her out to a special dinner the night before.

5. You forget your spouse`s (boyfriend`s/girlfriend`s) birthday.

A. I`m not good at remembering birthdays.

B. I`m was preoccupied with other things.

6. You get a flower from a secret admirer.

A. I am attractive to him/her.

B. I am a popular person.

7. You run for a community office position and you win.

A. I devote a lot of time and energy to campaigning.

B. I work very hard at everything I do.

8. You miss an important engagement.

A. Sometimes my memory fails me.

B. I sometimes forget to check my appointment book.

9. You run for a community office position and you lose.

A. I didn`t campaign hard enough.

B. The person who won knew more people.

10. You host a successful dinner.

A. I was particularly charming that night.

B. I am a good host.

11. You stop a crime by calling the police.

A. A strange noise caught my attention.

B. I was alert that day.

12. You were extremely healthy all year.

A. Few people around me were sick, so I wasn`t exposed.

B. I made sure I ate well and got enough rest.

13. You owe the library ten dollars for an overdue book.

A. When I am really involved in what I am reading, I often forget when it`s due.

B. I was so involved in writing the report that I forgot to return the book.

14. Your stocks make you a lot of money.

A. My broker decided to take on something new.

B. My broker is a top-notch investor.

15. You win an athletic contest.

A. I was feeling unbeatable.

B. I train hard.

16. You fail an important examination.

A. I wasn`t as smart as the other people taking the exam.

B. I didn`t prepare for it well.

17. You prepared a special meal for a friend and he/she barely touched the food.

A. I wasn`t a good cook.

B. I made the meal in a rush.

18. You lose a sporting event for which you have been training for a long time.

A. I`m not very athletic.

B. I`m not good at that sport.

19. Your cars out of gas on a dark street late at night.

A. I didn`t check to see how much gas was in the tank.

B. The gas gauge was broken.

20. You lose your temper with a friend.

A. He/she is always nagging me.

B. He/she was in a hostile mood.

21. You are penalized for not returning your income-tax forms on time.

A. I always put off doing my taxes.

B. I was lazy about getting my taxes done this year.

22. You ask a person out on a date and he/she says no.

A. I was a wreck that day.

B. I got tongue-tied when I asked him/her on the date.

23. A game-show host picks you out of the audience to participate in the show.

A. I was sitting in the right seat.

B. I looked the most enthusiastic.

24. You are frequently asked to dance at a party.

A. I am outgoing at parties.

B. I was in perfect form that night.

25. You buy your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) a gift and he/she doesn`t like it.

A. I don`t put enough thought into things like that.

B. He/she has very picky tastes.

26. You do exceptionally well in a job interview.

A. I felt extremely confident during the interview.

B. I interview well.

27. You tell a joke and everyone laughs.

A. The joke was funny.

B. My timing was perfect.

28. Your boss gives you too little time in which to finish a project, but you get it finished anyway.

A. I am good at my job.

B. I am efficient person.

29. You`ve been feeling run-down lately.

A. I never get a chance to relax.

B. I was exceptionally busy this week.

30. You ask someone to dance and he/she says no.

A. I am not a good enough dancer.

B. He/she doesn`t like to dance.

31. You save a person from choking to death.

A. I know a technique to stop someone from choking.

B. I know what to do in crisis situations.

32. Your romantic partner want to cool things off for a while.

A. I`m too self-centered.

B. I don`t spend enough time with him/her.

33. A friend says something that hurts your feelings.

A. She always blurts things out without thinking of others.

B. My friend was in a bad mood and took it out on me.

34. Your employer comes to you for advice.

A. I am an expert in the area about which I was asked.

B. I am good at giving useful advice.

35. A friend thanks you for helping him/her get through a bad time.

A. I enjoy helping him/her through tough times.

B. I care about people.

36. You have a wonderful time at a party.

A. Everyone was friendly.

B. I was friendly

37. Your doctor tells you that you are in good physical shape.

A. I make sure I exercise frequently.

B. I am very health-conscious.

38. Your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) takes you away for a romantic weekend.

A. He/she needed to get away for a few days.

B. He/she likes to explore new areas.

39. Your doctor tells you that you eat too much sugar.

A. I don`t pay much attention to my diet.

B. You can`t avoid sugar, it`s in everything.

40. You are asked to head an important project.

A. I just successfully completed a similar project.

B. I am a good supervisor.

41. You and your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) have been fighting a great deal.

A. I have been feeling cranky and pressured lately.

B. He/she has been hostile lately.

42. You fall down a great deal while skiing.

A. Skiing is difficult.

B. The trails were icy.

43. You win a prestigious award.

A. I solved an important problem.

B. I was the best employee.

44. Your stocks are at an all-time low.

A. I didn`t know much about the business climate at the time.

B. I made a poor choice of stocks.

45. You win the lottery.

A. It was pure chance.

B. I picked the right numbers.

46. You gain weight over the holidays and you can`t lose it.

A. Diets don`t work in the long run.

B. The diet I tried didn`t work.

47. You are in the hospital and few people come to visit.

A. I`m irritable when I am sick.

B. My friends are negligent about things like that.

48. They won`t honor your credit card at a store.

A. I sometimes overestimate how much money I have.

B. I sometimes forget to pay my credit-card bill.

Scoring Key

PmB_____ PmG______

PvB_____ PvG_______


PsB_____ PsG_______

Total B______ Total G________



A. The Life Experiences Survey

Listed below are a number of events which sometimes bring about change in the lives of those who experience them and which necessitate social readjustment. Please check those events which you have experienced in the past twelve months. Be sure that all check marks are directly across from the items they correspond to (only check those that apply).

Also, for each item checked below, please indicate the extent to which you viewed the event as having either a positive or negative impact on your life at the time the event occurred. That is, indicate the type and extent of impact that the event had. A rating of -3 would indicate an extremely negative impact. A rating of 0 suggests that no impact either positive or negative. A rating of +3 would indicate an extremely positive impact.

Section 1

1. Marriage -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

2. Detention in jail or comparable institution -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

3. Death of spouse -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

4. Major change in sleeping habits (much more or much less sleep) -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

5. Death of close family member:

a. mother -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

b. father -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

c. brother -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

d. sister -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

e. grandmother -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

f. grandfather -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

g. other (specify) -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

6. Major change in eating habits (much more or much less food intake) -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

7. Foreclosure on mortgage or loan -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

8. Death of close friend -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

9. Outstanding personal achievement -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

10. Minor law violations (traffic tickets, disturbing the peace, etc.) -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

11. Male: Wife/girlfriend`s pregnancy -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

12. Female: Pregnancy -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

13. Changed work situation (different work responsibility, major change

in working conditions, working hours, etc.) -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

14. New job -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

15. Serious illness or injury of close family member:

a. father -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

b. mother -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

c. sister -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

d. brother -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

e. grandfather -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

f. grandmother -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

g. spouse -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

h. other (specify) -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

16. Sexual difficulties -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

17. Trouble with employer -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

18. Trouble with in-laws -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

19. Major change in financial status -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

20. Major change in closeness of family members -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

21. Gaining a new family member -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

22. Change of residence -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

23. Marital separation from mate (due to conflict) -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

24. Major change in church activities -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

25. Marital reconciliation with mate -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

26. Major change in number of arguments with spouse -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

27. Married Male: Change in wife`s work outside home -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

28. Married Female: Change in husband`s work -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

29. Major change in usual type and/or amount of recreation -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

30. Borrowing more than $10,000 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

31. Borrowing less than $10,000 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

32. Being fired from job -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

33. Male: Wife/girlfriend having abortion -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

34. Female: Having abortion -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

35. Major personal illness or injury -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

36. Major change in social activities -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

37. Major change in living conditions of family -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

38. Divorce -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

39. Serious injury or illness of close friend -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

40. Retirement from work -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

41. Son or daughter leaving home -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

42. Ending of formal schooling -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

43. Separation from spouse (due to work, travel, etc.) -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

44. Engagement -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

45. Breaking up with boyfriend/girlfriend -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

46. Leaving home for the first time -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

47. Reconciliation with boyfriend/girlfriend -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3


48. ________________________________ -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

49. ________________________________ -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

50. ________________________________ -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

51. Beginning a new school experience at a higher academic level -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

52. Changing to a new school at a same academic level -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

53. Academic probation -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

54. Being dismissed from dormitory or other residence -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

55. Failing an important exam -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

56. Changing a major -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

57. Failing a course -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

58. Dropping a course -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

59. Joining a fraternity/sorority -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

60. Financial problems concerning school -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

Final Score

Total number of negative points: ___________

Total number of positive points: ___________

Total score (add both the positive and negative scores as positive numbers): ___________

Submitted 5/20/98 2:56:31 PM
Last Edited 9/14/2008 5:23:35 PM
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