Low academic performers prone to higher stress: study

Psychologists have observed that children and adolescents are facing enormous anxiety and stress in the course of their academic programmes, leading to poor mental and physical health

By Susheela Srinivas
Published: Tuesday 07 May 2019
Representational Photo: Getty Images

Over the recent years, there has been alarming increase in social, parental and institutional emphasis on academic performance. A new study, conducted among high school students, has shown that students who do not perform well in academics are prone to higher stress.

Textbook-focussed teaching is becoming the norm of the day and the rank of the performer holds a higher value rather than skill sets. Psychologists have observed that children and adolescents are facing enormous anxiety and stress in the course of their academic programmes, leading to poor mental and physical health.

A team of clinical psychologists from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS) conducted the study to assess stress levels in 20 high school girl students — 10 were high-rankers and 10 low-rankers.

The researchers first built rapport with the children. They then gave them a psychological test called Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), which involved answering a questionnaire.

The electrical activity of brains of the students was done using Electroencephalography (EEG). It was ensured they were calm before beginning the study. Data was collected using two methods — PSS and by the electrical response of the brain in specific areas using EEG readings.

PPS is a standard psychology tool or method where the individual is given a 10-item questionnaire based on life events for the past one month to which they provide detailed answers. The results showed that the students from the low-rank group had higher PSS values than those who did better academically.

The researchers then took EEG recording of the students for 10 minutes each — 5-minute eyes closed, and 5-minute eyes opened. EEG is a reliable, non-invasive method, which records the brain’s electrical activity with the help of probes placed at different points on the scalp.

“The brain’s electrical activity is divided into four bands. Each band represents a mental state of the individual. We found significant readings in two bands called Alpha and Beta. The Alpha band is prominent during relaxation, while the Beta band involves conscious thought and logical thinking with a stimulative effect, and takes prominence during high arousal, anxiety and stress,” said Jamuna Rajeswaran, head of clinical neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience centre at NIMHANS.

The team observed that top ranking students had significantly higher Alpha (63.83 per cent) and lower Beta (36.17 per cent) activity; while the low rankers had lower Alpha (37.5 per cent) and higher Beta (62.5 per cent) activity.

“This is an exploratory study. The results imply that there is a need for stress management programmes in schools. In future, we intend to include socio-demographic factors like gender, region, educational levels also,” she added.

The research team included Rajnish Kumar Gupta, Cathlyn Niranjana Bennett, Amitabh Bhattacharya and Abhineet Ojha, besides Rajeswaran. The study results have been published in the Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology. (India Science Wire)

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