Industrial Psychiatry Journal

: 2010  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 105--110

Cross-sectional analysis of psychological aspects of adolescent underachievers

Sanjay Kumar Nayak1, Masroor Jahan2,  
1 Department of Psychology, Jagadguru Rambhadracharya Handicapped University, Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, India
2 Department of Clinical Psychology, RINPAS, Kanke, Ranchi, Jharkhand, India

Correspondence Address:
Sanjay Kumar Nayak
Department of Psychology, Jagadguru Rambhadracharya Handicapped University, Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh


Background: Previous research supports that factors commonly associated with underachievement include low academic self-concept, low self-efficacy, low self-motivation, low goal valuation and negative attitude toward school and teachers. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess the feeling about reading of adolescent underachievers, including emotional difficulties, physical problem (usually eye dysfunction), mechanism of reading, self-concept, and interest in reading. Materials and Methods: Forty-eight underachievers were compared with 40 achievers from 6 to 10 standard students on DQMy feeling about readingDQ checklist. Hypotheses were tested using t-test and χ2 (chi-square) test through statistical package for the social sciences. Results: The result suggests that underachievers significantly differ from achievers in all five domains, i.e. emotional difficulties, physical problems (usually eye dysfunction), mechanism of reading, self-concept, and interest in learning. Conclusion: Underachievers face different emotional and other psychological difficulties during their academic sessions. They must be taken care of properly within their academic environment.

How to cite this article:
Nayak SK, Jahan M. Cross-sectional analysis of psychological aspects of adolescent underachievers.Ind Psychiatry J 2010;19:105-110

How to cite this URL:
Nayak SK, Jahan M. Cross-sectional analysis of psychological aspects of adolescent underachievers. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2010 [cited 2022 Nov 30 ];19:105-110
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Full Text

In the course of their academic curriculum, students go through several evaluations. Their level of achievement at these evaluations represents the primary criterion to determine if students meet the academic requirements to be promoted successfully to the next grade level. [1] Therefore, academic achievement has an important impact on students' progress in school.

Underachievement is most commonly defined as a discrepancy between potential or ability and performance or achievement. [2] Therefore, a student who appears capable of succeeding in school but is nonetheless struggling is often referred to as an underachiever. Kennedy and Halinsky [3] believe that most underachievers possess a poor attitude toward the reading process; such attitude cannot be observed directly, of course, but must be inferred from verbal and nonverbal behavior. Because the ability to read is a prerequisite to achievement in nearly all other subjects, it is important to investigate the attitudes of underachievers toward the reading process.

In prospective epidemiological studies, Yule et al. [4] reported specific reading retardation in 3.5% of 10-year-old participants and 4.5% of 14-year-old participants of Isle of Wight. Reading retardation was reported in 6% of the 10-year-old participants in London. In contrast, Silva et al. [5] found reading retardation in only 1.2% of a sample of New Zealand schoolchildren. Shaywitz and Shaywitz [6] found 17.5% of the population of schoolchildren in primary and middle school to have reading difficulties.

Factors commonly associated with underachievement include low academic self-concept, [7] low self-efficacy, [7] low self-motivation, [8] low goal valuation, [9] and negative attitude toward school and teachers. [10],[11] A student can also underachieve because the orientation and teaching style of the school is not consistent with the student's learning style or cognitive pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Most of the literature on underachievement suggests that underachievers have lower academic self-perceptions, lower self-motivation and self-regulation, less goal-directed behavior, and more negative attitudes toward school than high achievers. [2] Marcus [12] stated different underlying causes that include attention deficit disorder, learning disability, medical problems, ability issues, emotional or psychological problems, situational and academic problems.

Reid et al. [13] reported that students with emotional-behavioral disturbance have significant deficits in academic achievement (effect size −0.64). When compared to younger students, greater deficits were not observed in older students (i.e. those more than 12 years old) with emotional-behavioral disturbance. However, many emotionally upset youngsters function quite well in the classroom, but some children do not succeed because of emotional disturbance and others become disturbed because they are not achieving. [14]

Many studies over a long period of time have established that there is a strong relationship between good health and effective learning. In developed countries, screening for eye diseases in pre-school and school children is done routinely. However, little is known about the prevalence and public health importance of eye diseases in school-age children in developing countries including India. Lin et al. [15] found the myopic rate was 12% at the age of 6 years, it increased to 56% at the age of 12 years, and then to 76% at the age of 15 years in Taiwan school children. A myopic rate of 84% was found for the age range of 16-18 years. Wedner et al. [16] studied 2511 secondary school students of Mwanza city, Tanzania, and they reported significant refractive errors in 6.1% students. Some other studies reported that the prevalence of myopia increases with education, [17] and the possibility cannot be excluded that the lower prevalence in older age groups was the result of uncorrected significant myopia that had caused myopic students to leave school as a result of underachievement. [16] The children with mild degrees of hypermetropia may experience difficulty in learning to read. Analysis after exclusion of this group showed that significant educational disability was not associated with minor visual defects. [18]

Children who have successfully learned to read by elementary school have mastered three skills: They understand that letters of the alphabet represent word sounds, they are able to read for meaning, and they read fluently. Disruption of any of these components can throw off a child's development, the report says, and could lead to difficulties that ultimately will reduce the chances that the child will finish high school, get a job, or become an informed citizen. The perceptions students have about their skills influence the types of activities they select, how much they challenge themselves at those activities, and the persistence they exhibit once they are involved in the activities. [19],[20] Perceptions or personal expectancies generally fall into two categories: self-efficacy and self-concept. Underachievers often exhibit low self-concept or low self-efficacy. [21],[11] The causal ordering of academic self-concept and academic achievement has been one of the most critical issues in academic self-concept research. According to the self-enhancement model, self-concept is a determinant of academic achievement, whereas the skill-development model implies that academic self-concept is a consequence of academic achievement. [22] Wigfield and Karpathian [23] argued that young children's understanding of competence changes with age, such that with increasing age, self-concepts of ability are likely to be less positive. They posited that as children grow in age, their academic self-concept would be more systematically related to external academic outcomes. Helmke and van Aken [24] concluded that during elementary school, self-concept is mainly a consequence of cumulative achievement-related success and failure and that it does not have a significant impact on later achievement, neither on marks nor on test performance. As students make a transition from middle level to high school, their self-concept gradually grows. Increasing freedom allows adolescents greater opportunities to participate in activities in which they are competent, and increased perspective-taking abilities enable them to garner more support from others by behaving in more socially acceptable ways. [25] Baumeister et al. [26] concluded that self-esteem-the global component of self-concept-has no effect on subsequent academic performance. In contrast, Marsh and Craven's [27] review of reciprocal effects models from an explicitly multidimensional perspective demonstrated that academic self-concept and achievement are both a cause and an effect of each other. Marsh and O'Mara [28] reanalyze these data-including self-esteem emphasized by Baumeister et al., [26] academic self-concept emphasized by Marsh and Craven, [27] and postsecondary educational attainment-using stronger statistical methods based on five waves of data (grade 10 through 5 years after graduation; N=2213). Integrating apparently discrepant findings under a common theoretical framework based on multidimensional perspective, academic self-concept had consistent reciprocal effects with both achievement and educational attainment, whereas self-esteem had almost none.

Research findings over many years have consistently indicated that young people who do well in school tend to be interested in learning. [8] The relationship between motivation and academic achievement is complex. However, self-regulation may hold the key to understanding student achievement. Self-regulation refers to students' "self-generated thought, feeling, and actions which are systematically oriented toward the attainment of goals." [29] Self-regulation is a significant predictor of academic achievement, and the use of internalized self-regulatory strategies helps individuals to achieve in school. Unfortunately, disentangling the constructs of motivation and self-regulations has proven challenging. Underachievers may lack motivation, self-regulation skills, or a combination of the two traits. "Underachievers may not lack knowledge of strategies, but rather they may not understand that strategic behavior in conjunction with effort results in achievement." [30] McCoach and Siegle [31] revealed large differences between high achievers and low achievers. They found that high achieving students exhibited more positive academic self-perceptions, motivation/self-regulation, goal valuation, attitude toward schools, and attitudes toward teachers than low achieving students. They suggested that students who possess high self-motivation and self-regulation and who have positive academic self-perceptions are much more likely to be high achievers than the students who possess lower academic self-perceptions and lower motivation/self-regulation.

 Materials and Methods


Eighty-eight students, studying from 6 to 10 standards, were selected from different reputed public schools of Bokaro Steel City. Out of 88, 48 students were underachievers especially referred by school teachers due to their poor percentage of obtained marks (60% and below) compared to their class mean percentage of marks (80%). Further, 40 students were randomly selected from achievers, group matched for their age and class.


The following tools have been used for the collection of data in the present study:

Socio-demographic data sheet

This data sheet was used to gather information about the sample, i.e. name, age, sex, percentage of marks obtained in last school exam, parent's occupation, parent's monthly income, etc.

My feeling about reading checklist

The checklist used to assess feeling about reading was a 33-item self-rating checklist developed by Burks, [32] especially for older students who exhibit reading disabilities. Items are scored on 3-point scale, i.e. "not true," "somewhat true," and "very true." Further, items that are used for clinical use are related to emotional difficulties, physical problems (usually eye dysfunction), poor mechanism of reading, low self-concept, and loss of interest in reading.


After discussion with the school authority, appointment was given to students during school hours. They were called individually on scheduled date and time and the checklist was administered. They were asked to be honest in their responses. First they filled the socio-demographic data sheet and then "My feeling about reading" checklist was administered. All data were analyzed using statistical package for the social sciences (10.0 version) by calculating t-test and χ2 (chi-square) test.


The mean age of achievers and underachievers was 14.97 (SD=1.38) years and 14.291 (SD=1.215) years, respectively. In this study, most of the subjects were boys, i.e. 92.5% in achievers group and 73.83% in underachievers group. The average of obtained marks in last school examination for achievers was 82.87% and for underachievers was 50.69%. There were no significant differences in age and in parents' monthly income between achievers and underachievers.

In the present study, both groups (achievers and underachievers) showed significant differences in all five areas [Table 1]. Underachievers had statistically significantly more emotional difficulties, physical problems (usually eye dysfunction), poor mechanism of reading, low self-concept and less interest in learning.{Table 1}

Item wise analysis shows [Table 2] that underachievers significantly differ in only a few items of "My feeling about reading" checklist from achievers group. 60.4% of underachievers responded "somewhat true" in item 1, whereas only 25% of achievers responded "somewhat true" in this item. In item number 5, 16.7% of underachievers responded "very true" while 5% achievers similarly responded in the same item. Surprisingly, achievers group responded more difficulties in item number 6 compared to underachievers. However, in comparison to achievers group, underachievers felt more difficulties in item number 11 (45.8% responded "somewhat true" and 16.7% responded "very true"), item number 14 (20.8% responded "very true"), item number 16 (18.8% responded "very true"), item number 17 (50% responded "very true") and item number 20 (25% responded "very true"). Almost in all these items, lesser number of achievers responded "somewhat true" and "very true" than underachievers.{Table 2}


The purpose of the present study was to assess the feeling about reading of adolescent underachievers, including emotional difficulties, physical problems (usually eye dysfunction), mechanism of reading, self-concept, and interest in reading. Null hypothesis was tested that there would be no difference between underachievers' and achievers' responses.

The findings of the present study rejected the hypothesis and it revealed that underachievers were significantly different from achievers in all five domains, e.g. emotional difficulties, physical problems (usually eye dysfunction), mechanism of reading, self-concept, and interest in learning. Further, item analyses indicated significant differences of both groups (underachievers and achievers) only in item numbers 1, 5, 6, 11, 14, 16, 17, and 20.

The findings of the study suggested that underachievers have significant emotional difficulties, more physical problems (usually eye dysfunction), poor mechanism of reading, low self-concept and loss of interest in learning. Previous studies also reported similar findings. Significant deficits in academic achievement in students with emotional-behavioral disturbance were also reported earlier. [13],[14] However, poor achievement due to emotional-behavioral problems was significantly observed more in younger students rather than in older students. [13] Supportive findings stated that underachievers may have difficulty to achieve well due to their vision problem [16],[18] and myopic students have to leave school as a result of underachievement. [16] But minor visual defect does not significantly affect the academic achievement. [18] Previous studies showed that underachievers often exhibit low self-concept. [11],[21] Our finding in the present study is also similar and it revealed low self-concept among underachievers. In contrast, Baumeister et al. [26] concluded that the global component of self-concept has no effect on subsequent academic performance. However, Marsh and O'Mara [28] reported reciprocal effects of academic self-concept with both achievement and educational attainment. Our present finding showed underachievers have less interest in reading and poor mechanism of reading than achievers. There are few previous studies on the relation between interest in learning and academic achievement. Weiner [8] reported that young people who do well in school tend to be interested in learning. One study indicated high achievers exhibited more positive academic self-perceptions, motivation/self-regulation, goal valuation, attitude toward schools, and attitude toward teachers than low achievers. [31]

Since there is scarcity of studies conducted on underachievers' feeling about reading, the present study tried to trace out such difficulties of underachievers, and it found problems in all five domains. The findings about underachievers' difficulties item wise on "My feeling about reading" checklist suggest that underachievers have definitely some more difficulties in a few items than achievers. However, this study has been conducted to view such difficulties of underachievers in a small sample group. Further studies are needed on a large sample. Research should explore the relationship between these students' characteristics, feeling and academic achievement. Future research should be conducted to know whether improvement in students' emotional and psychological difficulties about their reading can improve their school performance.


In conclusion, this study sought to examine the differences between underachievers' and achievers' emotional difficulties, physical problems (usually eye dysfunction), mechanism of reading, self-concept, and interest in learning. There were significant differences between underachievers and achievers on all five domains. These results suggest that underachievers and achievers differ in their feeling about reading.


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