Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2014, 2, 14-22
Published Online November 2014 in SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/jss
How to cite this paper: Pidgeon, A.M., et al. (2014) Examining Characteristics of Resilience among University Students: An
International Study. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2, 14-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jss.2014.211003
Examining Characteristics of Resilience
among University Students: An International
Aileen M. Pidgeon1, Natasha F. Rowe1, Peta Stapleton1, Heidi B. Magyar2, Barbara C. Y. Lo3
1GradDipPsychSc, Bond University, Gold Coast, Austral i a
2University of Florida, Gainesville, USA
3The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong School of Psychology, Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia
Received August 2014
Attending university is a particularly stressful time due to unique emergent stressors such as
changes in environment, loss or diminishment of social support networks, academic pressures,
developing peer relationships, and financial management. There is growing recognition that these
common stressors may have deleterious effects on the mental health of students. Resilience, a
personality characteristic that moderates the negative effects of stress and promotes adaptation,
has been associated with increased psychological well-being. Despite a growing body of research
on resilience and its clinical significance in preventing mental health problems, relatively little is
known about contributing factors for resilience in well-adjusted university students. This current
study examined the characteristics of university students reporting high and low resilience for
elucidating its clinical implications in preventing mental health problem, primarily focusing on
potentially modifiable psychosocial variables. An international sample of 214 university students
recruited from Australia, the United States of America, and Hong Kong universities completed
measures of resilience, perceived social support, campus connectedness, and psychological dis-
tress. Results of a one-way between groups multivariate analysis of variance revealed that per-
ceived social support, campus connectedness, and psychological distress accounted for a signifi-
cant proportion (36%) of the variance between the high and low resilience groups of university
students. University students with low levels of resilience reported significantly lower levels of
perceived social support, campus connectedness, and higher levels of psychological distress, in
comparison to university students with high levels of resilience. Findings offer important implica-
tions for the development of resilience-based interventions among university students.
Resilience, Psychological Distress, Perceived Social Support, Campus Connectedness, University
A. M. Pidgeon et al.
Extensive research with university students indicates that psychological distress is a major concern during the
transition to university due to the multiple changes students face across personal, social, and emotional facets of
their lives -. In addition to academic demands, university students experience novel stressors and chal-
lenges such as, financial and living arrangements, the formation of new social networks, and adapting to new
familial and societal roles .
With growing research on the mental health of university students, empirical work on resilience has gained
recognition as a framework for examining why some students are successful in adapting to university, while
others face greater challenges . Previous research indicates that a successful adjustment to university is not
only related to resilience, but is also the result of modifiable psychosocial factors including peer connectedness,
feelings of belonging to the university, perceived social support, and psychological wellbeing . Due to the in-
creasing pressures placed on university students, mental health issues among this population are a growing con-
cern, with global research indicating an increase in depression, anxiety, and stress -. For example, research
indicates that Australian university students’ report higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety, than the ge-
neral population    and American university students report high levels of depression, generalised an-
xiety disorder, panic disorders, and suicidal ideation. Furthermore, university students in Hong Kong report high
prevalence rates of anxiety, depression, and stress . Therefore, gaining an understanding of the key modifia-
ble psychosocial factors associated with higher levels of resilience which promotes positive adjustment among
the university population is warranted.
Resilience is a key variable associated with the adaptation to the university environment . Research shows
resilience reduces the risk of psychological distress, assists with the management of academic demands, en-
hances academic outcomes, while also facilitating effective coping strategies when faced with academic pres-
sures  . In the absence of resilience, the stressors university students face have the potential to negatively
affect their mental health, increase psychological distress, and result in greater adjustment problems  .
Previous research on resilience has primarily focused on individuals affected by short and long-term adversi-
ties . University students are exposed to long-term adversities, such as academic stressors and environmental
pressures . Although a universal definition of resilience does not exist, resilience is widely considered as an
individual’s capacity to overcome adversities and successfully adapt to their environment .
Definitions of resilience range from a set of traits, an outcome, or a dynamic process that involves the expo-
sure to stress or adversity, followed by successful adaptation  . Connor and Davidson  define resi-
lience as personal qualities that enable individuals to thrive when faced with adversity. While Gilligan , de-
fines resilience as the ability to respond adequately and perform successfully in the face of adversity, or to ex-
ceed expectations during hardships. Additionally, researchers have viewed resilience as a protective buffer that
protects individuals against adversity . Overall, global findings suggest that resilience in the university en-
vironment is positively associated with greater mental health, as well as successful transition and adjustment to
university life   .
1.2. Perceived Social Support
Research shows a strong link between resilience and perceived social support, as perceived social support also
contributes to one’s ability to deal with adversities  -. Perceived social support has been identified as
a popular construct within the field of educational psychology, as it reflects an interaction between students and
their environment. This interaction is shown by perceived social support’s buffering effects on the relationship
between, psychological distress and resilience among university students .
Perceived social support is defined as an individual’s perception of physical and emotional care received from
family, friends, and significant others . Perceived social support is strongly associated with increased psy-
cholo gical wellbeing compared to enacted social support. Enacted social support is defined as the qualitative
nature of relationships with others involving interpersonal transactions of resources of support, which has been
associated with negative psychological outcomes and decreased wellbeing . Assessing an individual’s per-
ception about themselves and their environment is an important indicator of mental health status, with greater
mental health outcomes associated with positive perception of one’s self and environment . Therefore, ex-
A. M. Pidgeon et al.
amining an individual’s perceived level of social support, rather than enacted social support, provides a greater
insight into an individual’s thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs, which in turn are associated with resilience .
Global findings suggest that perceived social support acts as a buffer by moderating the negative effect of
stress . When applied to the university context, global findings reveal that perceived social support increases
internal resources of coping which in turn reduced the impact of stressors .
1.3. Campus Connectedness
In addition to the well-established constructs of resilience and perceived social support, a novel construct ex-
amined in the university context is campus connectedness. Although appearing similar to perceived social sup-
port, campus connectedness measures beyond this dimension by examining an individual’s perception of fitting
in and belonging with others within the university environment . In accordance with the Campus Connec-
tedness Scale , campus connectedness is operationally defined as the ability to develop quality relationships
with peers, fitting in, belonging, and feeling connected to campus life. Fitting in and having a sense of belonging
is important during the transition period into university, as social connectedness facilitates greater levels of resi-
Theories surrounding university attrition have placed great emphasis on the importance of both social and
academic integrations of students into the university context  . Literature exploring attrition in university
students suggests that a students’ sense of connectedness, particularly in their transition to university, is signifi-
cantly important in fostering increased academic motivation and higher levels of success . Although connec-
tedness is often considered a positive characteristic that facilitates resilience, there is limited research on con-
nectedness and its association with resilience and mental health outcomes, within the university context. How-
ever, a series of studies assessing connectedness and resilience within the school environment have revealed that
connectedness significantly influences academic and psychological outcomes for students  .
1.4. Psych ological Distress
In comparison to the limited literature between resilience and campus connectedness, the link between resilience
and psychological distress is well established  . Psychological distress in university students is opera-
tionalised by three distinct negative emotional states including: depression, anxiety, and stress. For the purpose
of the present study, depression is operationalised as prolonged feelings of despondency through assessment of
dysphoria, hopelessness, self-deprecation, devaluations of life, lack of interest, anhedonia, and inertia. Anxiety
is defined as increased worry, apprehension or fear, and operationalised through measurement of autonomic
arousal, situational anxiety, skeletal muscle effect, and subjective experience of anxious effect . Finally, the
present study operationalises stress as a state of mental and emotional tension resulting from demanding or ad-
verse circumstances. The assessment of stress includes the investigation of the following emotional states: being
easily agitated, nervous arousal, difficulty relaxing, irritability, and impatience . Due to the interrelationship
of these variables within the university context, the present study examined psychological distress, which has
ofte n been regarded as a comprehensive term utilised within the literature when referring to depression, anxiety,
and stress, when these factors are not of interest in isolation .
Research suggests that rates of psychological distress are increasing within university populations, with many
studies showing the negative effects of such distress on student’s experiences at university . According to a
nationwide survey conducted by the American College Health Association (2012), approximately 30% of col-
lege students indicated experiencing depression, with an additional 50% reporting experiencing overwhelming
anxiety. Findings also revealed that due to these stressors, seven per cent of American college students had con-
sidered suicide .
Research investigating the mental health status of university students in China claims suicide is one of the
highest causes of death in people aged 15 to 34 years, accounting for 19% of recorded deaths in this age group
. Due to the alarming rates of suicide in this population, Wong, Cheung, Chan, Ma, and Tang  investi-
gated the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress in a sample of 7915 university students in Hong Kong.
Results found that 21% of university students reported moderate to severe levels of depression, 41% reported
moderate to severe anxiety, and 27% reported moderate to severe levels of stress. In support of these statistics, a
study conducted by Chen et al.  investigated the prevalence of depression in a sample of 5245 Chinese uni-
versi ty students. Results revealed 40.1% of university students met the classification for borderline clinical de-
A. M. Pidgeon et al.
With statistics indicating such high prevalence of psychological distress in university populations, and subse-
quently high rates of suicide in this age group, adequate support services are needed . Several studies have
demonstrated that university students with higher levels of psychological distress report lower levels of resi-
lience, poorer relationships with peers, greater adjustment problems, and higher attrition rates   .
The research linking lower levels of psychological distress with higher levels of resilience, suggests that resi-
lience is a key factor in the university environment and provides an important framework for determining why
some students experience low levels of psychological distress, and why other university students experience
high levels of distress during their experience at university . Despite many studies suggesting resilience is a
key factor in reducing psychological distress, few studies have explored the characteristics of resilient university
students. In addition, no studies to date have examined the relationship between campus connectedness, per-
ceived social support, and psychological distress within the university context. Furthermore, even less is known
as to how, campus connectedness and resilience relate to one another in the university context. To the author’s
knowledge, no studies to date have examined this association.
1.5. The Current Study
The present study aimed to increase our understanding of the characteristics of resilience among university stu-
dents by examining high vs low levels of resilience in relation to perceived social support, campus connected-
ness, and psychological distress.
H1. It is predicted that significant positive correlations will exist between resilience, perceived social support,
and campus connectedness, while a significant negative correlation will exist between resilience and psychologi-
H2. It is predicted that in comparison to university students with high levels of resilience, university students
with low levels of resilience would report significantly:
1. Higher levels of psychological distress.
2. Lower levels of perceived social support.
3. Lower levels of campus connectedness.
Participants comprised of 214 university students aged 18 to 59 years (M = 22.03, SD = 5.48) recruited from
Bond University (Australia), the University of Florida (USA), and the University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong).
Of this sample, 166 (77.6%) participants were female and 48 (22.4%) participants were male. Inclusion criteria
required participants to be over 18 years of age.
The Resilience Scale (RS). The RS is a 25-item self-report scale, developed by Wagnild and Young , de-
signed to measure an individual’s resilience level. The RS uses a 7-point Likert Scale and provides a total score
of resilience, ranging from 25 to 175, with higher scores indicative of higher levels of resilience.
The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS). The MSPSS is a 12-item self-report
scale that measures an individual’s subjective levels of perceived social support . Items on the MSPSS are
scored using a 7-point Likert Scale. The scores for the MSPSS range from 12 to 84. A total score of perceived
social support is calculated through summation of the 12 items, with higher scores indicative of higher perceived
social support . Campus Connectedness Scale (CCS). The CCS is a self-report measure designed to assess
the degree of belongingness students’ feel towards their university campus . The CCS consists of 14 items,
measured on a 6-point Likert Scale.
The Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21). The DASS-21 is a self-report scale developed by Lo-
vibond and Lovibond , designed to assess the negative emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress.
The DAS S -21 includes 21 items, measured on a 4-point Likert Scale, with higher scores indicative of higher le-
vels of depression, anxiety, or stress. Due to using the shortened version (DASS-21) rather than the original
DASS-42, scores must be multiplied by two .
A. M. Pidgeon et al.
Prior to conducting the MANOVA, Pearson’s correlations were performed on resilience, perceived social sup-
port, campus connectedness, and psychological distress, as can be seen in Table 1. In line with the hypotheses,
significant correlations were observed between all variables, with moderate effect sizes . Results revealed
perceived social support to have a positive association with resilience (r = 0.39, p < 0.001), inferring that, as
scores on resilience increased, scores on perceived social support also increased. Resilience also depicted a posi-
tive association with campus connectedness (r = 0.42, p < 0.001), suggesting that as scores on resilience in-
crease, scores on campus connectedness also increased. As expected, an inverse association between resilience
and psychological distress was revealed (r = −0.52, p < 0.001) suggesting that, as scores on resilience increased,
scores on psychological distress decreased.
Prior to conducting the main analysis, an ANOVA was conducted to investigate any significant differences
between university classification (Australian, USA, Hong Kong) on dependent variables. No significant differ-
ence was found between these samples, on perceived social support F(2, 204) = 2.77, p = 0.065, campus con-
nectedness F(2, 213) = 1.45, p = 0.236, or psychological distress F(2, 213) = 2.64, p = 0.074. Due to no signifi-
cant difference being found between these sample, samples were merged to create one large, international sam-
A one-way between groups MANOVA was conducted to test the hypothesis that levels of perceived social
support, campus connectedness, and psychological distress would show a significant difference between univer-
sity students who reported high levels of resilience, in comparison to university students who reported low levels
of resilience. Students were classified intro groups of resilience through a tertile split. Due to examining high
levels in comparison to low levels of resilience, middle scores were not used. Findings showed a significant
multivariate main effect for resilience, F(1, 126) = 23.36, p < 0.001, ῆ2 = 0.357, power ⇒ 1, with resilience levels
accounting for 36% of total variance in the dependent variables.
Given the significant multivariate main effect, investigation of univariate analyses of variance were assessed
for each dependent variable. Levene’s test of homogeneity showed to be non-significant across all dependent
variables, inferring the data set had equal variance across the sample. Results showed significant univariate ef-
fects for resilience (high resilience versus low resilience) across the dependent variables of perceived social
support, F(1, 128) = 37.02, p < 0.001, ῆ2 = 0.224, power ⇒ 1, campus connectedness, F(1, 128) = 32.57, p <
0.001, ῆ2 = 0.203, power ⇒ 1, and psychological distress, F(1, 128) = 49.77, p < 0.001, ῆ2 = 0.280, power ⇒ 1.
Table 2 displays the means and standard deviations for the dependent variables between groups of high and low
levels of resilience. As noted in Table 2, the high resilience group reported significantly higher levels of per-
ceived social support and campus connectedness compared to the low resilience group. Furthermore, the high
resilience group reported significantly lower levels of psychological distress, when compared with the low resi-
Table 1. S ummary of intercorrelations, uncentered means, and standard deviations for resi-
lience, perceived social support, campus connectedness, and psychological distress (N = 214).
Variable 1. 2. 3. 4. M SD
1. Resilience - 133.26 18.38
2. Perceived Social Support 0.39*** - 68.22 11.60
3. Campus Connectedness 0.42*** 0.54*** - 60.00 1 4.10
4. Psychological Distress −0.52*** −0.22*** −0.45*** - 26.74 18.68
Note: ***p < 0.001.
Table 2. Means and standard deviations between groups (high versus low resilience), per-
ceived social support, campus connectedness, and psychological distress (N = 130).
High Resilience (N = 69)
Low Resilience (N = 61)
M (SD) M (SD)
Perceived Social Support 74.93 (9.85) 63.68 (11.09)
Campus Connectedness 67.34 (13.34) 54.28 (12.75)
Psychological Distress 16.38 (14.96) 35.97 (16.51)
A. M. Pidgeon et al.
The purpose of the current study was to investigate characteristics of resilience among university students. Spe-
cifically, the study’s objective was to examine university students with high and lows levels of resilience on
modifiable psychosocial factors such as perceived social support, campus connectedness, and psychological dis-
tress. Current literature supports the associations between these variables and resilience; however, is limited in
terms of examining differences in characteristics between university students reporting high or low levels of re-
silience. Additionally, to the authors’ knowledge, no studies to date have examined the relationship between re-
silience and campus connectedness in the university context. The current study addressed commonly cited limi-
tations in the literature, by using a diverse and global sample, allowing for greater insight into resilience across
diverse university populations.
Hypothesis one predicted that a significant positive correlation would exist between resilience and perceived
social support, and resilience and campus connectedness, while a significant negative correlation would exist
between resilience and psychological distress. Results supported this hypothesis. Findings were consistent with
previous research in that a significant positive association was observed between resilience and perceived social
support, with higher levels of resilience associated with higher levels of perceived social support  . Ad-
ditionally, novel to investigation, resilience showed a significant positive association with campus connected-
ness, with higher levels of resilience associated with higher levels of campus connectedness. Furthermore as
predicted, the current study found a significant negative association between resilience and psychological dis-
tress, supporting previous research by Hjemdal et al. , that found higher levels of resilience were associated
with lower levels of psychological distress.
Hypothesis two predicted that, in comparison to university students reporting high levels of resilience, univer-
sity students reporting low levels of resilience would report significantly: lower levels of perceived social sup-
port, lower levels of campus connectedness, and higher levels of psychological distress. Results provided sup-
port for this hypothesis. Results from the MANOVA, showed the multivariate main effect of resilience found
statistically significant differences between university students with high levels of resilience, and university stu-
dents with low levels of resilience. The main effect of resilience accounted for 36% of variance in the dependent
variables, inferring that university student’s levels of resilience played a significant role in depicting scores on
the combined measured variables of perceived social support, campus connectedness, and psychological dis-
As predicted, university students with low levels of resilience reported significantly lower levels of perceived
social support in comparison to university students with high levels of resilience. These results are consistent
with previous findings, in that perceived social support was associated with higher levels of resilience among
university students -. This finding suggests that university students with high levels of resilience showed
a greater perception of social support from family, friends, and significant others. Consistent with previous re-
search, high levels of perceived social support is not only linked with high resilience, but also linked with great-
er psychological wellbeing . With this in mind, the implementation of informal perceived social support in-
terventions within the university environment may be significantly helpful in cultivating resilience, improving
the mental health of university students, and also potentially increasing student retention.
Furthermore, as predicted, university students with low levels of resilience reported significantly lower levels
of campus connectedness in comparison to university students with high levels of resilience. Due to the positive
association shown between resilience and campus connectedness, universities may wish to focus on extra curri-
cular activities that foster connectedness to assist in facilitating greater resilience among the university popula-
Additionally as predicted, university students with low levels of resilience reported significantly higher levels
of psychological distress in comparison to university students with high levels of resilience. This finding sup-
ports the associations made in the literature between resilience and psychological distress, in that university stu-
dents with lower resilience experience greater psychological distress    . With statistics showing
such high prevalence of psychological distress among the university population, interventions aimed to lower
distress are increasing . As such, universities may wish to focus on implementing specific programs targeted
towards enhancing a student’s levels of resilience to ultimately reduce psychological distress.
Overall, the dependent variables explained 36% of the variance in resilience levels, leaving 64% of the va-
riance unexplained. Future studies may wish to explore additional characteristics that may account for signifi-
A. M. Pidgeon et al.
cant differences between university students with high levels of resilience and university students with low le-
vels of resilience. Limitations of the current study were noted. As with any research using self-report measures,
social desirability was a concern. An additional line of research may wish to assess university students through
self-report methods as well as through an external evaluator, such as a classmate. Such an approach may provide
an additional perspective and resolve some of the limitations evident in self-report procedures . The possibil-
ity of response set bias should also be noted when interpreting results, as the measurement scales used, incorpo-
rated limited reverse scoring. Therefore, caution must be taken upon interpretation, and future research should
ensure items and measures are counterbalanced to control for potential response set bias among participants.
Furthermore, the current study should be replicated using a larger sample. Due to recruiting participants via me-
thods of convenience sampling, participants were not representative of the global university population, limiting
the ability to generalise findings.
In combination, these findings made a valuable contribution to the body of literature examining resilience
among university students and to the limited research on campus connectedness and resilience within the uni-
versity context. Additionally, the current study is among the first to systematically explore the difference be-
tween university students with high and low levels of resilience, across levels of perceived social support, cam-
pus connectedness, and psychological distress. As such, the current study’s findings have made a significant
contribution to the knowledge surrounding resilience in the university environment, through gaining a deeper
understanding of the characteristics of resilient university students, who can succeed despite adversity. The sig-
nificant findings from the current study shows promise for identifying factors associated with resilience among
the university populations, which in turn can provide a basis for developing and implementing resilience-boost-
ing programs for this population. This will facilitate a myriad of benefits to not only university students but also
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