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Exploring the Relationships Between Discrepancies in Perceptions of Emotional Performance Among College Students on Self-Esteem and Psychological Distress


Using the cultural-normative perspective (Ekman [1973] 2006; Gordon 1981, 1990; Hochschild 1975, [1983] 2012) and the perceptual control emphasis in identity theory (Burke 1991, 1996; Burke and Stets 2009; Stets 2003, 2004, Social Psychology Quarterly, 68(1), 39–56 Stets 2005; Stets and Asencio 2008; Stets and Osborn 2008; Stets & Carter, Social Psychology Quarterly, 74(2), 192–215, 2011, American Sociological Review, 77(1), 120–140 2012; Stets et al. 2008b; Stets and Trettevik 2016; Stets and Tsushima 2001) I explore how college students’ perceptions of self versus others evaluations of emotional performances impact self-esteem and psychological distress. Drawing on a convenience sample of 1100 college students from a large university in the United States, I run a series of structural equation models (SEM) to examine my hypotheses. I suggest that the greater the discrepancy in the evaluation of the emotional response of happiness (or sadness) related to the student identity is related to lower self-esteem, greater depression and anxiety. Results support my hypotheses, even small discrepancies in perceptions of our emotional displays of happiness or sadness impact the self and psychological distress. I suggest ways this work can inform counselors, educators and others working within higher education to encourage integration of coping responses associated with the college student identity to be embedded in the cultural landscape of the university setting. I offer suggestions how theoretical, empirical and applied work in this tradition can enhance the lives of college students and present a number of pathways for future research.

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  1. Additional data was collected related to emotions within other activated identities. In addition to examining the emotional response of the student identity discussed here, I activate both the family member and friend identity. By activating the identity individually, the goal was to establish reflection related to specific emotions within the specific identity, not in general or as a measure of global emotion.


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Correspondence to Jessica A. Leveto.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Leveto, J.A. Exploring the Relationships Between Discrepancies in Perceptions of Emotional Performance Among College Students on Self-Esteem and Psychological Distress. Curr Psychol 39, 1661–1673 (2020).

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  • Emotions
  • Identity Theory
  • Self-Esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • College Students
  • Happiness
  • Sadness