Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Tonks, Stephen M.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations


Educational psychology; Social psychology; Undergraduates--Attitudes--Research; Academic achievement--Psychological aspects--Research; Learning; Psychology of--Research; Educational attainment--Psychological aspects--Research; College students--Psychology--Research


The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate the influence that a threat to university students' academic competence had on their reported competence, self-efficacy, and the avoidance of help seeking in academics. This dissertation was conceptualized based on symbolic self-completion theory which maintains that when individuals are actively committed to pursuing certain self-definitions, they define themselves as complete (e.g., competent or possessing a desired quality) through the use of symbols of attainment. These symbols can consist of any behavior or material possession that is accepted by others as proof that the individual possesses the desired self-definition. In the present study, the desired quality is being a competent university student, and potential symbols of attainment are measures of perceived competence, self-efficacy, and the avoidance of help seeking in academics. Providing written advice to future undergraduate students was also examined as an additional symbol of attainment. A pre/posttest design was used to gather measures surrounding an academic threat to current undergraduate students (n=203). Results of this dissertation support that being an undergraduate student does represent a self-defining goal and suggest that some students are invested in establishing and maintaining competence within this desired self-definition. This dissertation found that following an academic threat the experimental group did exaggerate (i.e., increase) responses to some of the measures. In addition, both academic commitment and self-esteem were important in determining the extent to which a student engaged in the symbolic self-completion process using measures that focus on competence, self-efficacy, and the avoidance of help seeking in academics.


Advisors: Stephen M. Tonks.||Committee members: Daryl Dugas; Amanda Durik; Lindsay Harris; Lee Shumow.


148 pages




Northern Illinois University

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