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Social Cognitive Theory and Application to Reduction of Stress and Improvement of Wellbeing of University Students

Discuss about the Social Cognitive Theory of Sustainability Empathy.

Theories of health behaviour are found to be assisting in the implementation of behaviour change interventions in a number of ways. The underlying process encompasses the promotion of understanding health behaviour, research, and facilitation of transferability of the intervention among two health issues (Prestwich et al., 2014). The theories of health behaviour have been widely used to achieve better health and general well-being outcomes since a long time. They are found to be effective in treating different health and well-being issues within the society (Hayden, 2013). The present literature review is about Theories of Health Behaviour and their application. The review discusses two important theories of health behaviour, social cognitive theory and theory of social support, and applies them to the topics of reducing stress and improving the wellbeing of university students. The literature review strives to highlight the main aspects of the topic and direct future research in this domain. It would help policy makers to reform health interventions that aim at reducing stress and improving the wellbeing of university students.

According to Font et al., (2016) social cognitive theory is pertinent to health communication and deals with emotional, behavioural and cognitive aspects for understanding changes in behaviour. The theory has the underlying principle that when individuals observe a certain model to perform behaviour along with the results of the behaviour, they have the tendency to remember the events in a sequential manner and utilise the information for guiding subsequent behaviour. Another advantage of observing a model can be that individuals are prompted to engage in a certain behaviours that are already learned. According to Lent and Brown (2013) social cognitive theory has four goal realisation processes; self-efficacy, self-reaction, self-evaluation, and self-observation. The components are found to be interrelated and having a profound impact on the goal attainment and motivation.  Heiss and  Petosa (2016) state that people replicate a behaviour that is the model based on the fact that whether they are punished or rewarded for the behavior they have undertaken. The key concepts regarding the social cognitive theory are the environment, situation, expectations, self-control, observational learning, reinforcement, self-efficacy, emotional coping responses and reciprocal determinism. Emotional coping responses are the strategies and methods that can be considered by an individual for dealing with emotional stimuli. The coping responses are essential in providing training to solve problems and manage stress.

Theory of Social Support and Application to Reduction of Stress and Improvement of Wellbeing of University Students

Bíró et al., (2014) conducted a study that gave insight into the relation between social cognitive interventions and stress reduction among Hungarian university students. A social cognitive intervention was developed fundamentally based on the social cognitive theory. The goal was to bring improvements in the capability of students pursuing higher education. The universities where stress was highly prevalent among the students were considered for the application of the intervention. The social cognitive intervention encompassed improving skills in problem-solving and communication; skill improvement in reduction of stress; increasing information regarding psychoactive substances that are used for reduction of stress. The applied intervention was found to be making a modest but important reduction of psychological distress among students. Social cognitive intervention can, therefore, be applied to all students in different universities for improving their wellbeing, and a suitable measure would be to integrate such interventions in the standard curriculum.

Plotnikoff et al., (2013) highlighted the application of social cognitive theory in acting as an effective coping resource against stress and reducing stress. As per the author, a physical exercise is a form of personal coping strategy against stress and effective means of enhancing the well-being of individuals. Motivating people to take up physical exercises on a daily basis is dependent on a number of factors. A driving instigating force for incorporating intentions to take up exercise is received self-efficacy. Self-efficacy also helps in maintaining the motivation to exercise for a longer period of time. Social cognitive theory is found to be providing explanatory constructs in relation to exercise behaviour. As opined by Patton et al., (2016) a significant source of motivation arises from the links between self-efficacy and goal setting. Educational institutions can utilise this concept to reduce increasing stress among students by setting up some basic and small goals for them and gradually leading upwards to difficult ones. Through this process, the students can develop a belief of self-efficacy as they are successful fulfilling the goals gradually. For example when a new academic year starts, if a student is given some difficult tasks and goals to complete, it is likely that the student would experience stress and self-doubt and feel incompetent. The stress has a negative impact on the wellbeing of the student and reflects in the poor quality of life. On the contrary, if the student is presented with simple tasks and enabled to experience success in the initial level, a sense of self-efficacy combats stress and improves mental and emotional well-being.

According to the theory of social support individuals when given the strong system of support by the nearby social relations achieve better health and emotional and psychological wellbeing. Social relationships when give support to individuals, act as a protective factor against the vulnerability on an impact of stress. Social support involves care, love, trust and empathy that are equally important to enhance the wellbeing of the individuals. Social support can also be in the form of suggestions, advice and feedback that help in self-evaluation (Raffaelli et al., 2013).  In the viewpoint of Holt-Lunstad and Uchino (2015), social relationships have an impact on health behaviour and health determinants.  The components of social relationships are social support, social network, and social integration. According to Westaby et al., (2014) the most striking perspective around social support is a hypothesis that support can potentially reduce the impact of stressful events on health. This implies that social support can form to be a stress buffer by either some form of supportive actions or the principle that support can be received when needed. Coping performance is enhanced through supportive actions. On the contrary, perceptions that support can be available when required helps in appraising situations as not much stressful.

King et al., (2014) conducted a study to explore the relation of student’s closeness to friends and family, stress and happiness. The main aim of the investigation was to determine whether perceived happiness experienced by college students tend to vary depending on stress, closeness to dear ones and stress management strategies. Closeness to dear ones is regarded as social support in this context. The concluding results of the study suggested that students are less happy regarding matters of education and work. Perceived happiness dramatically differs with emotional closeness to near and dear ones. Participants of the study who had less happiness had less emotional closeness and high-stress level. Perceived stress was found to be varying majorly depending on the emotional closeness the participants had with friends, parents, and guardians. Individuals reporting less perceived stress had much closeness with others and received social support.

Brannan et al., (2013) highlighted that though many cross-sectional studies have put the emphasis on wellbeing, there is a lack of impact of social support on people in Middle Eastern countries. The study conducted by the authors was undertaken to examine the relationship between subjective well-being and social support among college students in the United States, Jordan, and Iran. The components of well-being were satisfaction with the quality of life and negative and positive affect. Support from family predicted mental satisfaction and wellbeing in all of the three countries. But support given by friends was found not to predict any of the components of well-being in the country of Iran. Nevertheless, the United States and Jordan indicated increased positive mood due to support from friends.

Tompkins et al., (2016) stated that social support is widely linked to positive personal outcomes as well as academic outcomes. However, not much has been investigated regarding which source among the different social supports, that is friends and family, peers and faculty members, is best for achieving satisfaction in case of graduate students. The research undertaken by the author aimed to study the confounding relationship between satisfaction of graduate students and social support from three domains that are faculty, family or friends, and peers. A total number of 228 doctoral students took part in the research. The participants reported of getting more socio-emotional support from their peers and family and friends than faculty. Regression analysis explained around 30% of a difference in life satisfaction as a result of social support.

Conclusion

From the above literature review, it can be concluded that concerned authorities in educational organisations, particularly universities, can assist in bringing improvement in the student’s level of stress and well-being by embracing the social cognitive theory and social support theory. There is a distinct difference between social cognitive thory and social support theory as applicable to changes in indivisual’s health behaviour. While social support involves the direct influence of individuals close to the patient on the changes of behaviour of the patient, social cognitive theory involves actions, thoughts and behaviours  of individuals to make an impact along with direct experience and observation. In social cognitive theory the patient considers the behaviours and attitudes of other individuals, unlike social support theory where the main influencing factor is emotional support aand encouragement provided. Increasing social connections and stress management technique simultaneously would help in achieving the goal.  Further research is warranted for identifying the exact modes of delivering such interventions and reducing stress levels. Scientific studies with varied population would give generalised results in this regard that can form to be the basis of health and wellbeing reforms in universities.

References

Bíró, É., Veres-Balajti, I., Ádány, R. & Kósa, K., (2014). Social cognitive intervention reduces stress in Hungarian university students. Health promotion international,dau006.

Brannan, D., Biswas-Diener, R., Mohr, C.D., Mortazavi, S. & Stein, N., (2013). Friends and family: A cross-cultural investigation of social support and subjective well-being among college students. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(1), 65-75.

Font, X., Garay, L., & Jones, S. (2016). A Social Cognitive Theory of sustainability empathy. Annals of Tourism Research, 58, 65-80.

Hayden, J. A. (2013). Introduction to health behavior theory. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Heiss, V. J., & Petosa, R. L. (2016). Social cognitive theory correlates of moderate-intensity exercise among adults with type 2 diabetes. Psychology, health & medicine, 21(1), 92-101.

Holt-Lunstad, J., & Uchino, B. (2015). Social support and health. Health behavior: Theory, research and practice, 183-204.

King, K.A., Vidourek, R.A., Merianous, A. & Singh, M., (2014). A study of stress, social support, and perceived happiness among college students. J Happiness Well-being, 2(2),132-44.

Lent, R. W., & Brown, S. D. (2013). Social cognitive model of career self-management: Toward a unifying view of adaptive career behavior across the life span. Journal of counseling psychology, 60(4), 557.

Patton, L. D., Renn, K. A., Guido, F. M., Quaye, S. J., Evans, N. J., & Forney, D. S. (2016). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. John Wiley & Sons.

Plotnikoff, R. C., Costigan, S. A., Karunamuni, N., & Lubans, D. R. (2013). Social cognitive theories used to explain physical activity behavior in adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Preventive medicine, 56(5), 245-253.

Prestwich, A., Sniehotta, F. F., Whittington, C., Dombrowski, S. U., Rogers, L., & Michie, S. (2014). Does theory influence the effectiveness of health behavior interventions? Meta-analysis. Health Psychology, 33(5), 465.

Raffaelli, M., Andrade, F. C., Wiley, A. R., Sanchez?Armass, O., Edwards, L. L., & Aradillas?Garcia, C. (2013). Stress, Social Support, and Depression: A Test of the Stress?Buffering Hypothesis in a Mexican Sample. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23(2), 283-289.

Tompkins, K.A., Brecht, K., Tucker, B., Neander, L.L. & Swift, J.K., (2016). Who matters most? The contribution of faculty, student-peers, and outside support in predicting graduate student satisfaction. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 10(2), 102.

Westaby, J. D., Pfaff, D. L., & Redding, N. (2014). Psychology and social networks: a dynamic network theory perspective. American Psychologist, 69(3), 269.

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