Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy



Collaborative Specialization

Migration and Ethnic Relations


Esses, Victoria M.

2nd Supervisor

Saklofske, Donald H.



This dissertation focused on how various self-views variables (self-esteem, self-concept, and self-concept clarity) differ across and within groups of university students, are influenced by internal and external factors, and predict academic and non-academic variables. Key models of self and group perceptions were used in deriving hypotheses (i.e., Shavelson, Hubner & Stanton, 1976; Bosson & Swann Jr, 2009; Stephan, Ybarra, & Morrison, 2009). Across the four studies, self-report questionnaires were used. Studies 1 and 4 were completed online by international, immigrant, and Canadian born students. Studies 2 and 3 examined only international students, involved an experimental manipulation, and were conducted in-lab. The aim of Study 1 was to ascertain if self-concept scores differ across international, immigrant, and Canadian born students. Immigrant students had higher math self-concept than Canadian-born students, and international students had lower verbal and academic self-concept than non-international students. Study 2 was designed to explore whether self-concepts (general, academic, and verbal) and self-esteem levels of international students would be affected when primed with threat, and to see whether resilience and acculturative stress would moderate the threat-self-views link. Scores did not differ across conditions and moderations were non-significant.

In Study 3, the hypotheses in Study 2 were reexamined with a different experimental manipulation. Other differences between these studies were the inclusion of a positive non-threat priming condition and measures of self-concept clarity and religion self-concept. Self-views scores did not differ across priming conditions. However, with increasing levels of acculturative stress, the drop in general self-concept was smaller for those in the positive non-threat condition than in the neutral condition. Study 4 assessed whether there were group differences in the prediction of outcomes by self-views variables. Results indicated that self-views predict outcomes in expected ways (e.g., academic self-concept predicts GPA), but that there are group differences in prediction (e.g., immigrant students reported lower levels of life satisfaction compared to Canadian born students as levels of general self-concept increased). In sum, international, immigrant, and Canadian born students differ across self-concept domains and in predictor-criterion relationships, and the self-perceptions of international students change depending on context. Implications for educational stakeholders and self-views researchers are outlined.

Summary for Lay Audience

Four research studies were undertaken to better understand how various undergraduate students describe themselves (i.e., self-concept), feel about themselves (i.e., self-esteem) and to explore how clear and confident their self-perceptions are (i.e., self-concept clarity). Specific goals of this research are as follows. A first goal was to find out if and how international, immigrant, and Canadian born student self-descriptions differ (in Study 1). A second goal was to explore self-esteem, self-concept, and self-concept clarity with a specific focus on international students and to find out how these variables are influenced by context (i.e., the presence or absence of threat), personality factors, and stress associated with transitioning to a new environment (Studies 2 and 3). A final goal of this research was to explore whether there are differences across international, immigrant, and Canadian born students in links between self-perceptions and relevant academic and non-academic variables (Study 4).

Studying these topics in a university setting is important because student self-perceptions are associated with academic success and retention, as well as overall life satisfaction. Because international students are a growing component of university attendees and more research is required to support positive outcomes for these students, some of the studies here focused exclusively on international students. The findings demonstrated that there were differences amongst international, immigrant, and Canadian-born students in self-descriptions (i.e., in areas of math, verbal, and academic), and in terms of links between self-perceptions and other variables (e.g., general self-concept-life satisfaction). In the studies that focused on international students only, context seemed to be less relevant for self-descriptions and self-esteem than other factors such as transition stress. These findings offer insight into how university students think and feel, which in turn may be helpful in guiding further research on how to promote student success.