Research at the University of Hull

Relationships between mental toughness and other aspects of adolescent's experiences at school have been examined in a series of projects conducted by staff and students at the University of Hull. Projects have examined associations between mental toughness and classroom behaviour as well as adolescent's peer relationships.

In one study, conducted by Myfanwy Bugler, we were particularly interested in associations between mental toughness and adolescent's disruptive classroom behaviour. Teachers frequently report high levels of concern about disruptive behaviour, and disruptive behaviour is associated with a number of outcomes including poor academic attainment. It is therefore important to identify factors that may be related to student's behaviour, and in particular factors that can potentially be changed via intervention, such as mental toughness.

In the study 295 adolescents aged between eleven and fifteen years completed the MTQ48. Classroom teachers were then asked to complete a Conners' Teachers Rating Scale Revised Short Version (Conners, 1997) for each child in their class. This is a scale comprised of twenty-eight items assessing four dimensions of behaviour; cognitive problems/ inattention, oppositional behaviour, hyperactivity, and ADHD. Here we combined these subscales to produce an overall measure of disruptive
behaviour. Again data analysis predominantly involved computing correlations between mental toughness and other variables, in this case student's behaviour.

The correlations between each subcomponent of mental toughness and student's classroom behaviour are shown in Table 3. Several aspects of mental toughness were significantly negatively related to classroom behaviour, suggesting that higher levels of mental toughness were associated with lower levels of disruptive behaviour. The analyses revealed particularly close relationships for commitment, control of life, interpersonal confidence, and total mental toughness.

Again the results of this study have important implications for educational practice. The relationships between mental toughness and disruptive behaviour suggest that mental toughness training has the potential to improve adolescent's behaviour in the school classroom. Schools may therefore want to consider introducing mental toughness training in to their curriculum, particularly if they have concerns about behaviour management. In particular, training focused on student's commitment, control of life, and interpersonal confidence is likely to be beneficial.

In another study, conducted by Jamey Spokes (also reported in St Clair-Thompson, Bugler, Robinson, Clough, McGeown, & Perry, 2014) we were interested in examining the relationships between mental toughness and adolescent's peer relationships. Peer relationships are an important aspect of child and adolescent development and are also related to outcomes including academic attainment and health

Table 3. Correlations between mental toughness and negative classroom behaviour.

Behaviour

Challenge -0.13*

Commitment -0.25**

Control of emotion -0.10

Control of life -0.27**

Confidence in abilities -0.06

Interpersonal confidence -0.19**

Total mental toughness -0.21**

Note: ** p < 0.01, * p < 0.05. and wellbeing. It is therefore of interest to identify factors which may contribute to successful peer relationships.

In the study ninety-three students aged eleven to thirteen years of age completed the MTQ48 questionnaire, and were also asked to complete the Social Inclusion Survey (Frederickson, 1994). In this survey students are asked to answer, “How much do you like to play with—?” for each student from their tutor group, and then “How much do you like to work with—?” for each student in their group. Students responded either “I don't know them”, “I like to play/work with them”, “I don't mind whether I play/work with them” or “I don't like to play/work with them”. The proportion of children who responded “I like to play/work with them” was calculated for each child. We examined the correlations between aspects of mental toughness and social inclusion scores.

The results of the study are displayed in Table 4. The results revealed significant relationships between confidence in abilities, interpersonal confidence, total mental toughness, and peer relationships. Thus a student's confidence is related to the extent to which other student's like to play with or work with them at school.

Together the findings of these studies suggest that mental toughness is a useful construct to consider in educational settings, and that mental toughness interventions have the potential to have beneficial effects upon several aspects of adolescents educational experiences. These include academic attainment, classroom behaviour, and peer relationships. The components of commitment and control of life were particularly related to attainment and behaviour, with the subscales of confidence also being related to attainment, body mass index, behaviour, and peer relationships.

Table 4. Correlations between mental toughness and peer relationships.

SIS play with

SIS work with

Challenge

0.18

0.13

Commitment

0.13

0.18

Control of emotion

0.07

0.10

Control of life

0.10

0.16

Confidence in abilities

0.24*

0.26*

Interpersonal confidence

0.29**

0.24*

Total mental toughness

0.22*

0.24*

Note: ** p < 0.01, * p < 0.05.


In many ways it is not surprising that commitment was important for academic outcomes. Commitment is described as the extent to which an individual is likely to persist with a goal or with a work task. Commitment also appears to overlap with the personality construct of conscientiousness. Within the theory of hardiness previous research has revealed that commitment is closely linked to academic performance in undergraduate students (e.g., Sheard & Golby, 2007). Conscientiousness is also known to be a good predictor of academic achievement (e.g., Bauer & Liang, 2003).

Control of life was also closely related to adolescent's attainment and disruptive behaviour. Students scoring highly on control of life are described as likely to manage their workload effectively, being good at planning, time management, and prioritising. This is likely to be beneficial for attainment, and result in little disruptive behaviour. Similar suggestions are made of students who have an internal locus of control in theories of academic motivation, particularly attribution theory. If a student has an internal locus of control (arguably similar to a high level of control in mental toughness theory) they perceive achievement as a result of ability or effort, rather than task difficulty or luck. They are therefore more likely to be engaged in learning, have positive behaviours, and reach higher levels of achievement.

Both confidence in abilities and interpersonal confidence were also related to educational outcomes assessed in the current studies. Confidence is closely linked with self-esteem. Self-esteem is also important for attainment, and those who feel confident with others may be more likely to have a wider circle of friends and may contribute more eagerly in group or class activities (e.g., Cheng & Furnham, 2002). There is therefore an apparent overlap between mental toughness and constructs in motivation theory, including locus of control and self-esteem and selfefficacy. Further research would therefore benefit from developing a better understanding of how the subcomponents of mental toughness are related to constructs such as motivation.

Future research projects

Ongoing and planned research projects are examining relationships between mental toughness and other aspects of education. These projects aim to further develop our understanding of how and why mental toughness is important within educational settings. In one
of these projects we are examining the relationships between mental toughness and transitions from primary school to secondary school. If mental toughness indeed acts as a resilience resource when confronted with pressure or stress then student's scoring highly on mental toughness may better cope with the transition from primary school to secondary school. As a result of proposed changes to the education system in the UK, which include curriculum subjects being assessed through large end of year examinations rather than via coursework or modular assessments we also aim to explore relationships between aspects of mental toughness and examination performance. The use of qualitative methods such as interviews or focus groups as well as quantitative analyses could also provide a more in depth understanding of the characteristics of students with high or low mental toughness. This could then inform future research into mental toughness interventions.

Future research will also examine methods for developing mental toughness within educational settings. As detailed elsewhere in this book there are several approaches to mental toughness training. These include positive thinking, visualisation, anxiety control, attentional control, and goal setting. A key part of any intervention is also selfreflection. A useful starting point for examining interventions in educational settings may therefore be to encourage students to reflect upon their own mental toughness and identify any areas of strength and weakness. This could be followed by goal setting and the implementation of strategies such as positive thinking. Given the links between mental toughness and educational outcomes that have been described in this chapter such interventions have the potential to improve adolescent's attainment and experiences at school.

Conclusion

The research described in this chapter represents a first step in understanding the role of mental toughness in education. However, from the series of studies presented it is clear that mental toughness is indeed a useful construct to consider within educational settings. If mental toughness can be developed or improved through appropriate interventions then there are many possibilities for improving the educational outcomes and experiences of children and adolescents. This may serve to allow students to realise their potential and to open doors of opportunity that were previously not considered.


 
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