First Advisor

Ellen A. Skinner

Date of Publication

Fall 12-9-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Systems Science: Psychology


Systems Science




Personality in children, Adjustment (Psychology) in children, Control (Psychology) in children, Determination (Personality trait) in children, Personality and academic achievement, Motivation in education, Achievement motivation in children



Physical Description

1 online resource (xxiii, 405 pages)


Studies investigating the development of perceived control and coping in the academic domain generally adopt an individual differences approach, reporting mean-level changes in these and associated constructs. Very few studies attempt to chart the process by which these personal resources exert individual and combined influences on academic outcomes, such as motivation and achievement, in light of normative developmental changes. Further, a consideration of reciprocal influences of these constructs on developmental changes and the contribution of social partners to these processes is not common.

Conceptualized from a systems perspective, this study integrates these different approaches in a longitudinal inquiry into the development of perceived control and coping, the impact of coping on academic engagement and achievement, and how support from the context shapes, and is subsequently shaped by, student behavior. An action-theoretic model is used to describe the hypothesized relationships, deriving from Deci & Ryan's (1985) self-determination theory, and incorporating a flexible framework of coping as functionally similar yet structurally distinct strategies, defined as action-regulation under stress (Skinner, Edge, Altman, Sherwood, 2003; Skinner & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2007). Four ways of coping are examined, divided into two categories: mastery coping, comprising problem-solving and information-seeking, and helplessness coping, comprising escape and confusion ways of coping. Contextual support is conceptualized as teacher provision of structure, involvement, and autonomy support. Engagement, as a motivational resource that leads to increased achievement, comprises both behavioral and emotional aspects of engagement. A tri-partite formulation of perceived control is used (Skinner, Chapman, & Baltes, 1988a), comprising means-end (strategy), agency (capacity), and generalized control beliefs.

Data collected during one year of a four-year longitudinal study from 665 students in grades four and six, and fifty-three of their teachers, were used for this investigation. Normative developmental differences were examined through comparisons of mean-level shifts in each of the model constructs; regression-based analyses tested for age differences over time in the process structure of the model. Reciprocal influences of coping and engagement on teacher support and perceived control, and of engagement and achievement on coping, were also tested for age differences.

Results highlight the normative developmental changes that occur in these constructs during middle childhood, and indicate that the pattern of these changes is largely consistent with expectations; however, the process structure of the model relating the constructs of interest was found to be stable over time, with only one significant age difference detected: the influence on mastery coping of means-end control beliefs for effort. All other relationships tested did not differ significantly as children get older. Discussion focuses on evidence provided by the results of age trends in the developmental processes believed to be the drivers of change in the study constructs. Implications for the study of coping, regulatory processes, and features of the educational context, as they relate to the development of children's coping and control resources, are explored, with suggestions for the direction future research in these areas might take.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Persistent Identifier

Included in

Psychology Commons