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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 30  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 323-328  Table of Contents     

Personality and mental health factors associated with performance at university level: A study of business administration students

1 Faculty of Management Studies, Sri Sri University, Cuttack, Odisha, India
2 Birmingham Medical School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
3 Department of Psychiatry, Steps to Health, Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom

Date of Submission12-Apr-2021
Date of Acceptance30-May-2021
Date of Web Publication11-Nov-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Nilamadhab Kar
Department of Psychiatry, Steps to Health, Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Showell Circus, Low Hill, Wolverhampton WV10 9TH
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ipj.ipj_34_21

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Background: Performance of students at university level may be influenced by various factors. Aim: In a sample of business administration students, we explored personality, mental health, and life style factors associated with high and low achievers based on their examination grades (Grade A and higher vs. Grade B and lower). Methods: We studied personality factors using big five inventory (BFI)-10, anxiety through generalized anxiety disorder-7 screening scale, and depression by patient health questionnaire-9 scale. In open-ended questionnaires, stress, relationship, and drug uses were enquired about. Results: Considerable proportions of students had anxiety (33%) and depression (41%) at moderate-to-severe level; however, they were not different in the two groups. Higher examination grades were associated significantly with higher scores on conscientiousness factor of BFI-10 and female gender. There was no difference in self-reported stress or substance use between the two groups. Conclusions: While conscientiousness was associated with better performance, mental health factors were comparable between higher and lower grades in examination. The results highlight the need for further research on personality and modifiable factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression and to evaluate effectiveness of interventional approaches on academic performance.

Keywords: Academic performance, business management, mental health, personality, university

How to cite this article:
Rath N, Kar S, Kar N. Personality and mental health factors associated with performance at university level: A study of business administration students. Ind Psychiatry J 2021;30:323-8

How to cite this URL:
Rath N, Kar S, Kar N. Personality and mental health factors associated with performance at university level: A study of business administration students. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 May 20];30:323-8. Available from: https://www.industrialpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2021/30/2/323/330338

Various factors are known to influence the academic performance of students at university. These can vary from innate factors such as intelligence and personality traits,[1] but external and situational factors may play a role.[2] Personality factors, interpersonal skills, skills in group, social cognition, stress, etc., are a few examples that can influence performance in academics in the university and later in professional life.[3],[4] These factors may be particularly relevant for students of professional courses such as business administration.

There is a wealth of literature about personality traits and entrepreneurial success.[5],[6] Personality factors are so influential in the professional role that it has been suggested to have appropriate personality assessment to improve the chance of success in academics and professional career.[7],[8] It is reported that personality factors influence the choice of business studies among students.[9] Success has been linked to being conscientious, emotionally stable, socially adept, self-disciplined, practical rather than imaginative, and relaxed rather than anxious.[8] A study on medical students found conscientiousness predicting success, whereas high neuroticism being associated with poor performance in most specialties.[1] While dysfunctional personality factors have negative influence, creative hobbies have been reported to have significantly positive influence on examination outcome.[10]

A few studies report different factors influencing examination performance in business students which could be linked to personality. For example learning from mistakes, time management, motivation, hard work, attendances in classes,[2],[11] etc., were linked to higher grades, whereas poor attention to lectures, inadequate effort, inability to have in-depth understanding, lack of attendance, and poor self-discipline were some of the factors linked to lower grades.[2],[12]

It has been found that specific measures for at-risk students can improve their grades.[13] Hence, it is important to have a process in identifying and supporting students who may struggle in their academics. In addition, studying about the factors that can influence adult learning and improve outcome is an essential step for any educational setup. Specifically, exploration of factors that are modifiable and can help students in improving their performance should be undertaken.

There is a specific lack of studies in this regard in India, especially for students of Masters of Business Administration (MBA). In this study, we intended to find out personality factors, stress, anxiety, depression in MBA students, and the association of these variables with their examination grades. It was expected that actions on the factors gleaned from this exploration may improve academic outcomes for students.

   Methods Top

This study was conducted as a cross-sectional, questionnaire-based survey. The sample included final year students of MBA. The questionnaire included standardized scales and open-ended items for specific areas of enquiry. For assessment of personality, 10-item short version of the big five inventory (BFI)-10 was used. The BFI-10 has acceptable psychometric properties and reported to provide adequate personality assessment in research settings with limited participant time.[14] It has been used in many management and entrepreneurial research.

We used Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)-7 questionnaire to screen for anxiety which covered nervousness, worry, relaxation, restlessness, irritability, and fear. The GAD-7 is a commonly used self-rated, validated instrument for screening for GAD and assessing its severity.[15] Patient health questionnaire (PHQ)-9 scale was used for assessing depressive symptoms and severity. PHQ-9 is a validated, self-rated scale exploring about interest, mood, sleep, energy, appetite, self-worth, concentration, psychomotor activity, and thoughts being better dead or self-harm.[16] It has been used extensively as a screening instrument for depression.

We checked about any stress and use of drugs in the previous month. These were collected as a self-report; dichotomized “yes” or “no” answer, and no specific scales were used. If the stress was present, its nature was asked, all the reported stresses were recorded and categorized as personal or course related. If the substance use was reported, it was further elaborated as type of substance (tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and any other illicit drugs) and frequency of use. We collected demographic information such as age, gender, religion, relationship (married or having a long-term relationship), and self-reported socioeconomic status (poor, lower middle, upper middle, and upper) of family. The presence of any physical or mental illness was enquired.

The data collection was done after the examination when the results were available. We enquired specifically about their performance grade or percentage in the last semester. Students with Grade A or higher were compared with students with Grade B or lower for analysis.

Institutional ethical approval and permission was obtained for conducting this project. The project followed the ethical guidelines such as informed consent, anonymity, voluntariness, and option to withdraw at any point. There was facility to discuss any aspect of the project or any concern following the participation in the survey, with a faculty member or the research team. A clinical psychologist was available to respond to any concern regarding the mental health; and there were option and facility of referral to mental health services if required.

Data were entered in a excel sheet and were quality checked. Missing data were excluded from the analysis. All the responses to open-ended questions were coded based on the theme and later regrouped for their comprehensiveness. Data were analyzed on SPSS version 25 (IBM Corp. Armonk, NY, USA).[17] Appropriate statistical tests including Chi-square, t-test, and correlations were used and the level of significance was 0.05 as standard.

   Results Top

The sample consisted of 51 students with 33 (65%) males and 18 (35%) females. Most of them were from upper middle socioeconomic status and Hindu religious background. Majority were single, while a considerable proportion was in a relationship [Table 1]. Considering their last semester results, 47% (n = 24) had Grade A or higher and 53% (n = 27) had Grade B or lower. We compared these two groups of students (Grade A and B) on their sociodemographic variables, anxiety, and depression. Higher proportion of female students compared with males (67% vs. 36%, P < 0.05) had Grade A or higher. There were only one married person; so for calculations, this was considered along with the group that reported being in a relationship (n = 20). Majority (71%) of those in relationship compared with 30% of those in single status performed significantly (P < 0.01) better. However, there were no differences among economic or religious background, having physical or mental problems, drug use, stress and anxiety or depression symptom categories.
Table 1: Association of academic achievement with sociodemographic and clinical variables

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Personality traits

Average scores of BFI-10 traits were given in [Table 2] for those who scored Grade A or higher compared with those with Grade B or lower. Students with Grade A or higher had significantly more conscientious score in BFI-10 compared to those with Grade B or lower. There was no difference of BFI category scores between genders.
Table 2: Score of big five inventory traits in different grades of performance

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Mental health issues

A considerable few reported high level of anxiety and depression based on GAD-7 and PHQ-9, respectively [Table 1]. However, there were no statistically significant differences between the different graders. The mean anxiety (8.8 ± 6.5 vs. 7.7 ± 5.1) and depression (10.0 ± 7.6 vs. 9.2 ± 5.7) scores between the Grade A and B students were comparable. Physical and mental health problems were reported in a minority. A small proportion of students reported using drugs, which were mostly tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol and these were used daily by 5%, 5%, and 3%, respectively.

Correlation of grade in last semester with anxiety, depression, and BFI-10 score is given in [Table 3]. This suggested that, while there was a significant correlation of anxiety and depression scores, and few other personality traits based on BFI-10, there was no correlation with the semester grades.
Table 3: Correlation of grade in last semester with anxiety, depression, and big five inventory score

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Self-reported stress factors influencing performance

We enquired about stress in the previous month and the average number of responses of Grade A and B for course-related stresses were 1.13 and 0.93, and personal stresses were 0.67 and 0.37. Among these stresses reported by the students, most were linked to course and related activities. These included course-related tasks, presentations, attendance, rules and regulations, knowledge gap, and teacher behavior. There were a few who reported personal stresses such as relationship problem with friends, health issues, and financial concerns. Among these, stresses related to the relationship issues were predominant.

Predicting examination grades

We analyzed the independent variables that could be predicting examination grades (as dependent variable) through regression analysis. The independent variables which were significantly associated with examination grades in bivariate analysis such as gender and relationship were entered in the equation along with BFI-10 traits. Being in a relationship (P < 0.01) and conscientiousness (P < 0.05) were found as significant contributors. When the analysis was controlled for the gender and relationship, conscientiousness maintained its significance (P < 0.05) as a predicting variable.

   Discussion Top

Performance in university courses by adult students may be influenced by multiple factors. This study explored the personality, mental health, and stress factors that are associated with the examination grades in postgraduate management students.

Personality factors and academic achievement

Overall grade scores were not significantly correlated with any of the BFI factors. However, it was interesting to note that high achievers (Grade A or higher) had significantly greater score on conscientiousness. High score on conscientiousness suggests self-discipline, efficiency and organization, acting dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations; similarly, low score denotes flexibility and spontaneity but may appear easy going, unreliable, and sloppy.[18] A few previous studies have also reported conscientiousness as a factor associated with success in university level students.[1],[8] It is quite possible that behavior patterns associated with the trait of being conscientiousness may help students to achieve better. It has been stressed to embed moral and ethical components in the business curriculum;[19] which may qualitatively enhance the professionalism of the students.

Stress and psychological factors

Although more than half the students reported stress, it did not differentiate the examination grades. There were a lot of students with considerable score on anxiety and depression. Similar findings have been reported in university students, the prevalence of which increases before examination.[20],[21] It has been observed that persistent negative emotions affect examination grades.[22] Even if anxiety and depression affect the functional abilities of the individuals, often these go unnoticed, and appropriate help is not available. Facilities for assessment, therapeutic intervention such as stress-management, relaxation therapies, and counseling are essential.[21] It is important that the counseling services should not only be available, but also its accessibility and ease of use should be improved in the campus. One-to-one therapy and support in appropriate user friendly hours are essential.

There was no difference of sociodemographic variables with high or low academic achievers other than gender; significantly, more female students had higher grades. It was interesting that students who reported being in a relationship did well in the examination. It is not clear whether they more future focused and stable; it may need further exploration about reasons behind this finding. Similarly, there was no significant difference in the anxiety or depression categories, presence or absence of stress, and physical or psychological ailments on the examination outcome.

Proportion of students using drugs were more in the students with Grade B or lower compared to the high achievers; however, this was not statistically significant. Although reported figures of drug use were comparatively low in prevalence, it is still a concern, as drugs hamper cognitive faculties essential for academic performance.

Strengths and limitations

This study evaluated holistically the personality, anxiety, depression, stress, drug use, and physical health issues which may influence the academic outcome. Understanding modifiable factors relevant for examination outcome may be helpful in improving the performance. However, there are few limitations. The study included the grades of only one examination; it may be better to evaluate performance over a course, as transient factors may affect the result of one examination. The intensity of the reported stresses was not assessed; future studies may consider using a scale to measure the severity of the stress. We did not take many other possible factors which may be an indicator of current grades, for example, previous grades, personal choice, or interest in the course.

Practice implications

Findings of this research have many practice implications that may help business administration education in higher educational institutions. These can be specified for students, faculty members, and course planners. For students, it may be primarily improving the quality of being conscientious, taking care of the relationships with friends, as that is a major source of stress and worry in the campus and to seek help for anxiety and depression feelings. Faculty members may be able to help in the process in many ways. It has been reported that maintaining optimal emotional climate in classrooms can promote learning and students' performance.[23] Improving direct student–teacher contact time has been reported to be a factor influencing the student satisfaction.[24] As many students reported stress, anxiety, and depression, counseling and psychological support in the campus are expected to be helpful. Sessions related to healthy relationship, stress management, and supporting nonacademic and extracurricular skills of students may improve positive experience which may build student confidence and bolster performance.

   Conclusions Top

In the university level business management students, it was observed that being conscientious was associated with higher grades in academic performance. While it is understandable that trait of being careful or diligent, having the desire to do a task well, and to take obligations seriously may result in better performance, the results suggest that future research may evaluate whether these can be improved by interventions. In addition, this study found that there was no difference in the reported stress, anxiety, and depression between high and low achievers, however as considerable proportion of students had stress and moderate-to-severe anxiety and depression, intervention for these might improve the overall performance. Future research may also evaluate methods of orienting the students to be conscientiousness and their effectiveness; along with the change in academic performance following interventions for stress, anxiety, and depression.


We thank the faculty members and students of Management Studies in Sri Sri University, Cuttack; Quality of Life Research and Development Foundation, Bhubaneswar; Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Wolverhampton and The Institute of Insight, UK, for their support.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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