The Problem: Problems that might be expected to affect perceived
academic performance were studied in a sample of 283 university
students. Results: Breakup Distress Scale scores, less time since the
breakup and no new relationship contributed to 16% of the variance on
perceived academic performance. Variables that were related to academic
performance in previous studies including depression, anxiety, intrusive
thoughts, controlling intrusive thoughts and sleep disturbances did not
enter the regression equation. Conclusion: These results suggest that a
breakup affects students' perceived academic performance including
their concentration, homework and test scores.
Keywords: university students; breakup distress; academic
Relationship break-ups and poor academic performance are among the
most frequent complaints at campus counseling and mental health centers
(Oliveira, Dantas, Azevedo & Banzato, 2008). In another study,
depression, anxiety and relationship problems were the most frequent
complaints of students who sought campus counseling services
(Holm-Hadulla & Soeder, 1997). Depression has been associated with
as much as half a letter grade (.49) decrease in student grade point
averages and treatment was associated with a protective effect of
approximately .44 points in grade point averages (Hysenbegasi, Hass
& Rowland, 2005). Although self-reported grade point averages may be
unreliable, the literature generally suggests that depression negatively
affects academic performance.
Academic performance has also been related to sleep problems. In
one study, sleep problems accounted for the largest amount of variance
in grade point averages (Trockel, Barnes & Egget, 2000). Studies in
which sleep was actively restricted or optimized showed, respectively, a
worsening and improvement in academic performance (Curcio, Ferrara &
Gennaro, 2006). Several cognitive functions have been negatively
affected by sleep deprivation including attention and memory, (Durmer
& Dinges, 2005) and restricting sleep can also cause a range of
neurobehavioral deficits including lapses of attention, slowed working
memory, reduced cognitive output, and depressed mood. (Banks &
Dinges, 2007). Several days of less than seven hours sleep per night led
to cognitive dysfunction at levels comparable to those found after
severe sleep deprivation. The authors also noted negative effects on
immune function, metabolic and inflammatory responses.
Other variables have been related to sleep disturbances and
depression in university students but have not been assessed for their
effects on academic performance including breakup distress, intrusive
thoughts and controlling intrusive thoughts. (Field, Diego, Pelaez,
Deeds & Delgado, 2009). In this study, university students with high
breakup distress scores also had high depression scores, (Field et al,
2009) and intrusive thoughts and controlling intrusive thoughts were
significant predictors of depression in another sample (Field, Diego,
Pelaez, Deeds, & Delgado, 2011). Thus, all of these variables have
significantly influenced university students and appear to be
inter-correlated but have not been explored together for their influence
on academic performance. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to
assess the relative effects of these variables on perceived academic
performance. Relationship breakup distress, intrusive thoughts,
depression and sleep disturbances were expected to significantly
contribute to the variance on the academic performance variable.
The sample was comprised of 283 university students (78% female)
who averaged 21.3 years of age and had completed a mean of two years
college education. The students had the following ethnic distribution:
70% Hispanic, 12% African-American, 10% Caucasian and 8% other.
Following IRB approval for this anonymous questionnaire study, a
convenience sample of university students was recruited from psychology
classes at a southeastern U.S. university. The students were given extra
credit for their participation. During one of their class sessions, the
students completed a 120-item questionnaire comprised of demographic
questions, a Breakup Distress Scale, an Intrusive Thoughts Scale, a
Controlling Intrusive Thoughts Scale, a Sleep Disturbances Scale and
depression (CES-D) and anxiety (STAI) scales.
Academic performance was assessed by the following questions: 1)
"Has the breakup affected your ability to concentrate and learn new
material in class?"; 2) "Has the breakup affected your ability
to perform homework?"; and 3) "Has the breakup affected your
test scores or grades?". A 4-point Liken scale was used including
responses ranging from not at all to very much. The students'
responses were averaged for a summary academic performance score.
The Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D)
(Radloff, 1977) is a 20-item scale that assesses the frequency of
depressive symptoms within the last week. The scores range from 0 to 60.
The cut-off score of 16 is used for classifying depression. With only a
6% false positive and 36% false negative rate, the scale has been
reliable and valid for diverse demographic groups (Myers & Weissman,
1980). This scale was included because depression has been related to
academic performance in other studies (Hysenbegasi et al, 2005; Andrews
& Wilding, 2004).
The State Anxiety Inventory (STAI) (Spielberger, Gorsuch &
Lushene, 1970) is comprised of 20 items assessing the intensity of
anxiety symptoms. The scores range from 20 to 90, and the cut-of score
for high anxiety is 48. Research has demonstrated that the STAI has
adequate concurrent validity and internal consistency (Spielberger et
al, 1970). This scale was included because anxiety is frequently
comorbid with depression.
The Breakup Distress Scale (BDS) (Field et al 2009) was adapted
from the Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG) (Prigerson, Maciejewski,
Reynolds et al, 1995). The ICG was an outgrowth of research that found
certain symptoms of grief to be distinct from symptoms of depression and
anxiety symptoms including preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased,
crying, searching and yearning for the deceased, disbelief about the
death, being stunned by the death, and not accepting the death
(Prigerson et al, 1995). The internal consistency of the 19-item ICG was
high (Cronbach's =0.94). For the Breakup Distress Scale, the
wording of the items was changed to be appropriate for university
students and to be relevant for breakups rather than death.
The Intrusive Thoughts Scale (ITS) (Field et al, 2009) was
comprised of 4 items rated on a Likert scale from 1 (not at all) to 4
(very much so) including: 1) approximately how often per day would you
say the intrusive thoughts occur?; 2) how distressing are the intrusive
thoughts?; 3)how vivid are the intrusive thoughts?; and 4) how much does
the event appear to be happening now instead of happening in the past?
This scale was included because of the frequency of intrusive thoughts
found among those who are depressed (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000).
The Difficulty Controlling Intrusive Thoughts Scale (DCITS) (Field
et al, 2009) was adapted from the Thought Control Questionnaire (TCQ)
(Wells & Davies 1994). The Thought Control Questionnaire (TCQ) was
developed to measure individual differences on the use of thought
control strategies. Items were selected from the TCQ (19 of 30 items),
some of which were reworded to be appropriate for university students
and were rated on a different scale, i.e. a Likert scale ranging from 1
(not at all) to 4 (very much so) and included, for example, items like
"I get angry at myself for having intrusive thoughts", "I
tell myself not to think about them now", "I try to block them
out by reading, watching T.V. or playing on the computer" and
"I dwell on other worries". This scale was included because of
the difficulty controlling intrusive thoughts by depressed individuals
The Sleep Disturbances Scale (Field et al, 2009) was comprised of 4
items rated on a Likert scale from 1 (none) to 4 (a lot), including: 1)
trouble falling asleep last night; 2) trouble with disrupted sleep last
night; 3) amount of sleep last night; and 4) amount of exhaustion this
morning. This scale was included because sleep disturbances have been
associated with academic performance in other studies (Trockel et al,
2000; Curcio et al, 2006).
Scores on the above measures as well as the time since the breakup
and having a new relationship were entered into a stepwise regression
analysis using SPSS. As can be seen in Table 1, the stepwise regression
analysis revealed that the Breakup Distress Scale scores explained a
significant amount of the variance on perceived academic performance
(11%). Other breakup variables contributed to significant amounts of the
variance including time since the breakup (3%) (the shorter the time,
the higher the breakup distress score) and a new relationship (2%)
(having a new relationship contributed to less distress).
Surprisingly, variables that were related to perceived academic
performance in previous studies did not emerge as significant variables
including depression, (Hysenbegasi et al, 2005) anxiety (Holm-Hadulla et
al, 1997) and sleep disturbances (Trockel et al, 2000; Curcio et al,
2006). Although these variables were significantly related to Breakup
Distress Scale scores in our previous study, (Field et al, 2009) in the
current study they may have been covaried out of the regression equation
on academic performance by the more significant breakup distress
The breakup distress variables that contributed to the variance,
i.e. the Breakup Distress Scale scores, time since the breakup and a new
relationship, should be considered somewhat tenuous given the limited
amount of variance they explained. Nonetheless, they highlight the
significant negative effects that breakup stress can have on
students' perceived academic performance. Students'
concentration, homework, test performance and grades were apparently
affected by their breakup experience. However, the question of whether
the students' academic performance was affected awaits empirical
validation using measures of academic performance such as GPAs,
attendance, in-class participation and other more objective measures.
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University of Miami Medical School
Fielding Graduate University
University of Miami Medical School
Florida International University
Florida International University
University of Miami Medical School
Table 1. Stepwise regression on Academic Performance Score
Step R square [R.sup.2] change F for change p
1 .11 .11 21.16 .000
2 .14 .03 7.03 .005
3 .16 .02 4.38 .05
Predictors in order of their entry
1-Breakup Distress Scale
2-Time since breakup