Why Does Burnout Happen To Students?

Researchers at a Korean university have been studying the links between perfectionism, motivation and burnout in academic students.

I found the concept interesting because I’ve always been very motivated to study. Not necessarily to acquire pieces of paper with high marks on them, but to further my own learning. As a teenager I was constantly being told by my teachers that I was “doing too much”; advice which I stubbornly ignored as I added more and more A-level subjects to my teetering pile of exam preparation papers.


As an adult I’ve become a little more balanced, though my friends may not entirely agree. I’m still very motivated. I love learning and I enjoy efficiency, and where possible I try to learn at least one new thing every day. Sometimes this is just discovering that a city I’ve never been to before is very beautiful; sometimes it’s checking out a mathematics textbook from my local library and solving equations late into the night.

So I was interested to read the results of a study that focuses on precisely these points: if someone’s really motivated, and studying because they want to, then are they still likely to burn out?

It would seem not.

Chang et al surveyed 283 students, studying three areas: perfectionism, motivation, and academic burnout. The results were interesting (and I particularly like them because they back up my own arguments for being a bit of a workaholic).

They discovered that students who were intrinsically self-motivated – who drew their motivation from within; from a love of the subject they were studying, for example – presented as self-oriented perfectionists and had comparatively lower chances of burning out. In other words, there is a correlation between doing something because you want to, and because you love it, and it not making you ultimately burn out.

On the other hand, students who were socially-prescribed perfectionists – those who were pushed by parents, peers or similar to become “perfect versions” of themselves – were extrinsically motivated and had much higher chances of burning out.

In other words: do what you love, love what you do. That way, you can keep going even when other people might have burned out long ago.

The full study is available via ScienceDirect.

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Parental Expectations, Perfectionism and Spirituality

A fascinating study from the University of Michigan has recently revealed a correlation between perfectionism, spirituality and parental expectations.

Chang et al examined the relationships between perfectionism and spirituality in a sample of college students. They found that students who exhibited perfectionist behaviours, such as maintaining excessively high personal standards and organisational skills, also scored highly on a spirituality scale.

100_0556.JPGUpon conducting regression analyses, the team found that dimensions of perfectionism were also unique predictors of different dimensions of spirituality, and that parental expectations were a positive predictor for all three dimensions of spirituality being studied.

Interestingly, maladaptive dimensions of perfectionism, such as concern about making mistakes or parental criticism, were negatively associated with spirituality.

Personally, I would be interested in seeing an extension of this study in which the religious beliefs of the adult students were charted against those of their parents, in particular looking at those who had converted to a different religious faith upon growing up. Presumably Chang et al‘s results indicated that the level of spirituality remains the same regardless of the beliefs themselves, but I believe it would be interesting to look into conversion rates, compared with the general population, and any potential differences in fervency of belief between those who had converted to a different spiritual belief system and those who had remained with the beliefs of their parents.

The full study can be found in volume 79 of Personality and Individual Differences.

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