The higher the level of school engagement, the lower the level of school burnout – this is the overall picture. However, a study by Heta Tuominen-Soini and Katariina Salmela-Aro published in the latest issue of Developmental Psychology (3/2014) demonstrates that Finnish high school students display divergent patterns of school engagement and burnout.

The study showed that the majority of students belonged to the engaged group (44%) defined by high engagement and low burnout (i.e., exhaustion, cynicism, and inadequacy). The engaged–exhausted (28%) students, interestingly, expressed relatively high levels of exhaustion and inadequacy despite their high engagement. In addition, there were two groups of students who were less engaged in studying; those in the burned-out group (14%) were characterized by rather high levels of all the burnout dimensions, while those in the cynical group (14%) were characterized by pronounced cynicism only.

These patterns were associated in meaningful ways with academic functioning and mental health. The engaged students showed the most adaptive well-being and motivation. Compared to the engaged students, the engaged–exhausted students – despite their engagement, positive valuing of school and high academic achievement – were susceptible to psychological distress. More specifically, they were more exhausted, more stressed by their educational aspirations, and more preoccupied with possible failures in school and they also displayed lower self-esteem and more depressive symptoms than the engaged students. It might be precisely their high commitment to school that renders these students more vulnerable to emotional distress.

In turn, compared to the engaged and engaged–exhausted students, the cynical and burned-out students were less engaged, valued school less, tried to minimize their effort in schoolwork more, and had lower academic achievement. The cynical students, however, were less stressed, exhausted, and depressed than burned-out students. This implies that low valuing of school may or may not be associated with a broader pattern of adjustment problems.

The participants were 979 high school students who were followed until young adulthood (ages ranging from 17 to 25). The study shows that, six years later among the same participants, four similar groups were again identified and that there was broadband stability in the group memberships from adolescence to young adulthood. Interestingly, it was typical for engaged students to stay in the engaged group but for engaged–exhausted students to move into a more disengaged group. Finally, the engagement and burnout patterns seemed to matter also for long-term educational outcomes. For example, engaged students were more likely than predicted by chance to attend university.

This study is part of the FinEdu project.

For more information, please contact Heta Tuominen-Soini.

Reference

Tuominen-Soini, H., & Salmela-Aro, K. (2014). Schoolwork engagement and burnout among Finnish high school students and young adults: Profiles, progressions, and educational outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 50, 649–662. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0033898

Supplemental material: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0033898.supp