Looking out on a classroom or lecture theatre full of students, we might be struck by a number of factors. Generally, we see them as a whole; we discuss classes, groups and cohorts. In a school classroom these groups will, most likely, be dressed the same and (hopefully) adhere to the rules put in place, such as no extreme haircuts or excessive body piercings. At a college or university, individual differences might be more obvious, yet we might still see them as a single entity. Delve a little deeper and we soon discover that they are anything but identical; they have different beliefs, both about themselves and the wider world, some are confident and cocky while others are quieter and more complacent. Who they are is partly due to their personality (as was discussed at length in Chapter 4), yet selfhood is more than just traits. How a young person views themselves in terms of intelligence or ability or how popular they see themselves or their levels of self-esteem build up over the years based on experiences and the creation of internal scripts or self-schemas. These internal scripts form part of a self- identity, which, in turn, impacts behaviour. This might well include aspects of good and bad behaviour; however, in the context of buoyancy, behaviour refers to behaviours that either lead towards or away from our goals.
Early school experiences
In an interesting study published in 2018, researchers from Iowa State University administered an online questionnaire to 1028 Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 (Ladwig, Vazou & Ekkekakis, 2018). The purpose of the study was to see if their memories of school physical education classes impacted their current, present-day attitudes towards physical activity. Respondents were asked to rate their retrospective enjoyment of PE, their present attitudes and intentions for physical activity and their present physical activity and sedentary behaviour. In addition, they were asked to recall their best and worst memories relating to physical education classes. The researchers found the people's present levels of physical activity and attitudes towards it were highly influenced by their memories of PE at school. Those respondents with positive memories were more likely to engage in more physical activity than those who recalled their PE lessons as less enjoyable. In addition, those respondents with less positive recollections were more likely to lead more sedentary lives than those who found PE more enjoyable.
How are we to take these results? On the surface, it looks like our attitudes towards PE and physical activity originate in our past and how we felt about school-based physical education classes. However, it should be noted that these accounts were based on retrospective recollections, which might well be very clear in the minds of, say, an 18-year-old, but not so accurate in the mind of a 45-year-old (all memories are inaccurate to some degree). In addition, can we establish a causal relationship? What I mean by this is, are we sure that these early experiences led to later attitudes? Perhaps some of the respondents disliked PE because of some internal, innate trait or some other unidentified factor.
Does this then mean that our early experiences shape our later attitudes and, if so, to what extent do our early school days reflect our beliefs in our academic ability? This notion of the self, or more precisely, self-concept, has the potential to shape the people we become as well as our attitudes and beliefs in our own ability, including the ability to cope with setbacks.
Self-concept is a very wide-ranging term and it might be difficult to understand how aspects of the self (all the words with a self suffix) can be incorporated within this global construct or idea. Richard Shavelson's model of self-concept includes factors such as feelings of self-confidence, self-worth, self-acceptance, competence and ability; components that are certainly pertinent to learning environments, but also daily life generally. Shavelson, a psychologist at Stanford University, suggests that self-concept is influenced by a number of factors, including evaluations received by significant others (such as parents, peers and teachers). The model proposes a multifaceted and hierarchically based structure, so global self-concept sits at the apex; other components cluster beneath (Shavelson, Hubner & Stanton, 2008).
Social, emotional and physical aspects of the self impact our daily lives in a multitude of ways, from our external views of our physical appearance to internal emotions. How we view ourselves as individuals has a major impact on how we behave while a specific form of self-concept (known as academic-self concept) is important within any kind of learning environment. But these factors are also interrelated. A teenager, for example, with a low opinion of their own physical appearance will find that this one aspect of self-concept will impact on other areas, perhaps through lowered self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. This could impact on academic performance (and I stress could).