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Autonomy, chronic life stress, and physical symptoms among college students

25 July 2008


The literature on autonomy supports the idea that the developmental tasks associated with the transition away from home and into a college setting can be challenging to navigate and are likely impacted by an individual's level of self-regulation and self-governance. Research demonstrates that late adolescent undergraduates are experiencing a developmental transition and are therefore especially vulnerable to the occurrence and effects of stressful processes. Further, there is evidence that a relationship exists between perceived level of stress and reported physical symptoms among college populations. This study investigates relations between measures of autonomy, college chronic life stress, and physical symptoms~ and includes analyses of gender differences. The sample included 377 undergraduate college students from a private Catholic university located in the Midwest region of the United States. As predicted, autonomy was significantly negatively correlated with college chronic life stress and physical symptoms, and college chronic life stress and physical symptoms were significantly positively correlated. Additionally, empirical support was found for a meditational pathway between autonomy and physical symptoms, with chronic college life stress as a significant mediator. No significant gender differences were found. Study implications include development of interventions to help students successfully adjust to college life. Study limitations include use of self-report measures and a cross-sectional design. Future research should explore a longitudinal extension of these findings with a broader geographic sample.


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