2019, Cilt 9, Sayı 3, Sayfa(lar) 640-650
Anxiety and Sources of Anxiety in Chinese Doctoral Students
Meihua LIU, Almire ABLIZ
Tsinghua University, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Beijing, Peoples Republic of China
Keywords: Anxiety, Sources of Anxiety, Doctoral students
Anxiety has proved to be a complicated yet serious issue in learners at all educational levels. Thus, how to handle it becomes significant
given the critical importance of education to both individuals and society, which justifies continuous research on it. The present study
investigated anxiety and its sources in Chinese doctoral students. 322 students from various universities in China answered the Zung Self-
Rating Anxiety Scale, the Student Stress Inventory, the background questionnaire and two open-ended questions. Analyses of the data
revealed the following main findings: (1) the respondents were largely anxious both physically and mentally and experienced (high) stress
in various situations, (2) a series of causes was identified for student anxiety, and (3) student anxiety and stress were highly related to each
other. Based on these findings, implications on how to reduce student anxiety are discussed.
Students confront numerous obstacles in study, one of
which is anxiety (Vitasari, Wahab, Othman, & Awang, 2010;
Khoshlessan, & Das, 2017). The current literature shows that anxiety extensively exists in students in various disciplines
such as mathematics, statistics, engineering, business and
language learning (Dunn, 2014; Holmes, Waterbury, Baltrinic,
& Davis, 2018; Liu, 2016, 2018; Macher, Paechter, Papousek, & Ruggeri, 2012; Xiao, & Wong, 2014). Moreover, anxiety can
lead to various consequences such as delayed assignments,
lower academic achievements (Chapell et al., 2005; Macher
et al., 2012; Xiao, & Wong, 2014) and decreased satisfaction
and burnout (Boyd, Lewin, & Sager, 2009; Eshel, & Kadouch-
Kowalsky, 2003). All these demonstrate that anxiety is a
critical issue in education and deserves continuous research
considering the importance of education in both personal
life and society as well as the number of learners at various
educational levels. Furthermore, it is beneficial to explore
sources of anxiety in students to better understand it and
consequently handle it. Thus, the present study aimed to
examine anxiety and its sources in Chinese doctoral students.
According to Hughes and Gullone (2008), anxiety is a state of
fear, uneasiness, nervousness, worry, apprehension or tension
and is a normal and understandable reaction to stressing
situations. It is also related to mental and physical fatigue
(Jiang et al., 2003), fear of uncertainty (Cloninger, Pryzbeck,
& Svrakic, 1991), stress and depression (Stewart et al. 1997).
To explain anxiety, Pekrun (1984) developed the Expectancy-
Value theory, stating that anxiety is closely related to ones
expectancies and values of tasks/situations. Speilberger (1972)
proposed the trait-state theory and made a distinction between
state anxiety and trait anxiety. As he defined, state anxiety is a
transitory emotional state or condition of the human organism
that varies in intensity and fluctuates over time (Spielberger,
1972, p. 39); trait anxiety is relatively stable individual
differences in anxiety proneness, that is, to differences in the
disposition to perceive in a wide range of stimulus situations
as dangerous or threatening, and in the tendency to respond
to such threats with A-State reactions (Spielberger, 1972, p.
39). As subsumed in these two theories, anxiety is situationspecific,
has affective, cognitive and behavioral presentations
and can lead to differing consequences related to individuals
study, daily activities and social life, such as poor(er) academic
achievements, and behavior avoidance. To measure this
anxiety, a number of scales have been developed, of which
most widely used are the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory
(Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983), the
Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS) (Zung, 1971), the Study
Anxiety Scale (Vitasari et al., 2010), and so on.
A series of studies using these scales has revealed that anxiety
pervades in students in various disciplines such as language
studies, statistics, engineering, business and mathematics
(Chapell et al., 2005; Dunn, 2014; Holmes et al., 2018; Jungbluth,
MacFarlane, McCarty-Veach, & LeRoy, 2011; Liu, 2016, 2018;
Xiao, & Wong, 2014), and can lead to various consequences
such as delayed assignments and lower academic achievements
(Chapell et al., 2005; Macher et al., 2012; Xiao, & Wong, 2014),
decreased satisfaction and burnout (Boyd et al. 2009; Corrigan
et al. 1995; Eshel, & Kadouch-Kowalsky, 2003). For example,
Welch et al. (2015) studied statistics anxiety in 8 graduate
dental hygiene students in the U.S. The results showed that the
students experienced statistics anxiety, similar to their peers
in other disciplines like education, nursing, personal financial planning, exercise sports sciences, mass communications and
forensic science (Dunn, 2014; Jungbluth et al., 2011; Pan &
Tang, 2004; Williams, 2010). Jungbluth et al.s (2011) survey
study of 225 genetic counseling graduate students revealed
that though most students enjoyed learning and interacting
with peers, they were anxious about certain academic and
professional challenges such as time constraints, professional
obligations, workload and clinical rotations.
Chapell et al. (2005) found that there was a significant but
small inverse relationship between test anxiety and GPA in
both undergraduate and graduate students. Huangs (2014)
study of 20 graduate students in Taiwan found that most
participants had high anxiety over writing academic papers.
Ocak and Atasevens (2016) study of 401 graduate students in
Turkey revealed that uneasiness in information literacy had a
significant effect on students research anxiety. Xiao and Wong
(2014) examined language anxiety in 87 Chinese heritage
students studying in two American universities. The results
showed that writing activities were more anxiety-provoking
than other learning activities. Nevertheless, the study also
found that having some degree of anxiety could facilitate
learning and thus enhance performance, as found in earlier
studies (Rueda, & Chen, 2005).
Students may also suffer from social anxiety (Crozier, 2001;
Russell &Topham, 2012). For example, Russell and Tophams
(2012) study of 787 university students revealed that they
suffered from social anxiety and needed pedagogical support to
deal with it. By contrast, Khoshlessan and Dass (2017) research
on 85 international students found that social environment
was not a significant source of the students anxiety.
All these studies indicate that anxiety is an important issue
in education and worth researching considering the critical
importance of education to both individuals and society as well
as the number of learners. In addition, it is conducive to explore
sources of anxiety in students to better understand and handle
the issue. Consequently the present study aimed to explore
anxiety and sources of anxiety in Chinese doctoral students
and sought to answer the following research questions:
(1) What are the profiles of anxiety in Chinese doctoral
(2) What factors cause anxiety in Chinese doctoral students?
Context. As China develops fast and values science and
technology, institutions of higher education, especially
research-oriented ones, have been striving to do well in
research and gain international reputation. To achieve this, an
important strategy is to have more patents and publications
in international, peer-reviewed journals, especially topranking
journals (e.g., those indexed in SCI, SSCI, and A&HCI).
Consequently, having such publications is the primary
requirement for promotion for teachers; and doctoral
students, those in science and technology in particular, are
required to have more than two such publications, with at least
one in a top-ranking journal, to graduate in time, in addition to the completion of other requirements. Teachers and doctoral
students are thus under (great) pressure in that they need to
become competent researchers and to be proficient in both
English and academic English writing.
Participants. Three hundred and twenty-two (165 male and
157 female) doctoral students from various universities in
China participated in the present study. With a mean age of
27.89 (SD = 4.93), they were from various disciplines such as
chemistry and chemical engineering, Chinese, civil engineering,
earth system science, translation, electrical engineering, public
policy, language studies, material engineering, psychology and
environment engineering. Of these participants, 189 (58.7%)
were first-year, 32 (9.9%) second-year, 40 (12.4%) third-year, 40
(12.4%) fourth-year, 13 (4%) fifth-year and eight (2.5%) otheryear
students; 135 had taken the Ph.D qualifying examination,
of whom three failed (187 had not taken the exam).
Instruments. The participants answered a background
questionnaire, the 22-item Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale,
and the 18-item Study Stress Inventory. In addition, they were
asked to answer two open-ended questions: Do you often
feel anxious? and Why do (not) you often feel anxious, to
complement their responses to the survey items.
The Background Questionnaire. The background questionnaire
aimed to collect such information about respondents like
gender, age, year of study, major, university, and (not) passing
the Ph.D qualifying examination.
The Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale. The 22-item Zung Self-
Rating Anxiety Scale (ZSAS) (Cronbach coefficient a=.913) used
in the present study was adopted from that developed by Zung
(1971), aiming to measure respondents anxiety levels in study
at a specific point of time (see Table 1). This scale was selected
in the present research in that it has proven to be highly valid
and concerns various behaviors of anxiety (Brown & Zung,
1972; Jiang et al., 2003; Zung, 1971). Based on the results
of the pilot study, two more items were added to the Scale:
I often doubt myself and I worry about not being able to
graduate. All the items were placed on a 4-point Likert scale,
ranging from a little of the time, some of the time, good part
of the time, to most of the time with values of 1 to 4 assigned
to each of the alternatives respectively.
The Study Stress Inventory. Folkman and Lazarus (1985)
defined stress as a relationship between the person and the
environment that is appraised by the person as relevant to his
or her well-being and in which the persons resources are taxed
or exceeded (p. 152). As found in research, stress and anxiety
are closely related to each other (Lindesay et al., 2006; Uskun,
Kisioglu, & Ozturk, 2008). Hence, the 18-item Study Stress
Inventory (SSI) (a = .938) was also implemented in the present
research, intending to measure respondents levels of stress
in a variety of situations. This 18-item SSI was adapted from
that designed by Boyle, Borg, Falzon and Baglioni (1995), which
is closely related to individual students study, daily activities
and social life, such as the Ph.D qualifying examination, study
load, income, research, personal development, and peers (see
Table 1). All the items were placed on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from no stress, mild stress, moderate stress, much
stress to extreme stress with values 0 to 4 assigned to each of
the alternatives respectively.
Procedure and Data Analyses
The initial questionnaires were translated into Chinese and
then piloted on five doctoral students. The results led to the
addition of two items to the ZSAS, the present 18-item SSI, and
two open-ended questions. The resulted questionnaires were
translated into Chinese and double-checked by two assistant
researchers proficient in both Chinese and English, which,
together with a consent form, were then made available online
to doctoral students in universities in China.
The collected quantitative data were analyzed via SPSS 20. The
ZSAS and SSI were first subjected to rotated (varimax) principal
components analyses to reveal their underlying dimensions.
Then correlation analyses were run to reveal the relations
within and between ZSAS and SSI scales. After that, means
and standard deviations of ZSAS and SSI scales were calculated
to measure student anxiety and stress levels. Meanwhile,
responses to the open-ended questions were analyzed in
terms of themes (e.g., causes for anxiety such as research,
publication, study load, and personal development). To protect
students privacy, a number was assigned to each respondent
and used when their remarks were reported in this paper.
|Principal Factor Analyses of the ZSAS and SSI Scales
Both the Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (ZSAS) and the Study
Stress Inventory (SSI) were subjected to rotated (varimax)
principal components analyses before any statistical analysis
was conducted. The loadings are shown in Table 1
The analysis of the ZSAS yielded two factors, with eigenvalues
ranging from 1.92 to 9.11, which accounted for 41.41% and
8.73% of the total variance respectively. Factor 1 (ZSAS1), called
Physical Reactions, had 14 items reflective of physical reactions
to anxiety such as headache, faint and stomachache. The
second factor (ZSAS2), called Mental Reactions, and consisted
of eight items indicative of mental feelings of anxiety or ease.
The analysis of the SSI produced two factors, with eigenvalues
ranging from 1.671 to 12.589, which accounted for 29.62% and
26.15% of the total variance respectively. The first factor (ISS1),
Miscellaneous Sources of Stress, had 11 items concerned with
various sources of stress other than research such as study,
social life, salary, personal development and workload. The
second factor (ISS2), Research-related Stress, covered seven
items suggestive of stress related to research like the qualifying
exam, dissertation, and literature review. Items of writing and
English abilities were grouped into this factor in that Chinese
doctoral students were generally required to publish in
international journals in English to graduate in time.
As reported in Table 1, the loadings of the items in each factor
of the ZASA or SSI generally exceeded .3, meaning that they
were highly related to their factors. Moreover, as shown
in Table 2, the two ZSAS factors were highly correlated with each other (r=.736, = p≤ .01) and to the ZSAS (r=.913 ~ .948,
= p≤.01), so were the two SSI factors (r=.851 ~ .975, = p≤ .01).
Furthermore, the ZSAS and SSI scales were highly related to
each other as well, with coefficients ranging from .514 to .656,
implying that a respondent who was under greater stress felt
more anxious, or vice versa.
Anxiety and Stress Levels
To explore the participants anxiety and stress levels, means
and standard deviations of ZSAS and SSI scales were computed.
When computing the scores, items indicating low/little anxiety
were reverse-coded. As previously described, the ZSAS was
a four-point while the SSI was a five-point Likert scale, with
values of 1-4 and 0-4 assigned to each of the item descriptors,
respectively. Thus, a score of more than 3, 2.5-3 and below
2.5 on a ZSAS scale meant high, medium and low anxiety
respectively, and a score of more than 3, 2-3 and below 2 on a
SSI scale meant high, medium and low stress respectively. Thus,
the higher a ZSAS score, the more anxious the respondent was;
the higher a SSI score, the greater the stress. The results are
presented in Table 3, which shows that the participants scored
1.80 to 2.20 on the ZSAS scales and 2.97 to 3.04 on the SSI
scales. The ZSAS scores were all below the scale midpoint 2.5
while all the SSI scores far exceeded the scale midpoint 2. This
indicated that around one third of the participants suffered
from anxiety both physically and mentally and that they
generally were under (high) stress in various situations.
As shown in Table 3, male students scored 1.81 to 2.19 on the
ZSAS scales and 3.00 to 3.11 on the SSI scales; female students
scored 1.796 to 2.21 on the ZSAS scales and 2.93 to 3.19 on the
SSI scales. It seemed that female students experienced higher
research-related stress than their male counterparts while
being at a similar level at other aspects of stress and anxiety.
Nevertheless, the difference was statistically insignificant. A
similar pattern was observed for first-year students and those
in other years of study. It seemed that first-year students
displayed less anxious physical and mental reactions and
suffered greater stress than their peers in other years of study,
but no statistically significant difference occurred.
Click Here to Zoom
|Table 3: Means and Standard Deviations (SDs) of ZSAS and SSI Scales (n = 322)
Statistically significant difference was observed when the
participants fell into groups depending on whether they had
taken, passed or failed the Ph.D qualifying exam. As seen in
Table 3, students who had passed the exam scored 1.83 to 2.26 on the ZSAS scales and 2.93 to 3.09 on the SSI scales; students
who had not taken the exam scored 1.77 to 2.16 on the ZSAS
scales and 2.98 to 3.18 on the SSI scales; and those who had
failed the exam scored 2.19 to 2.38 on the ZSAS scales and
3.85 to 3.95 on the SSI scales. It seemed that students who
had failed the exam were the most anxious and experienced
the greatest stress; those who had not taken the exam were
the least anxious but experienced greater stress in all aspects
than their counterparts who had passed the exam. ANOVA test
results showed that significant differences occurred in all SSI
scales between the participants who failed the exam and the
other two groups. No statistically significant difference was
observed in any scale between students who had passed and
those who had not taken the exam.
A further look of the scores indicated that the respondents,
whatever specific group they were in, scored higher on ZSAS2
than on ZSAS1 and higher on SSI2 than on SSI1. This meant
that the respondents, whether they were male or female, in
year 1 or other years of study, had passed, failed or not taken
the qualifying exam, suffered more anxiety mentally than
their physical reactions displayed, and experienced greater
research-related stress than that from other sources.
Correlations between Anxiety and Stress
To examine the relations between anxiety and stress,
correlational analyses were run between ZSAS and SSI items
(To avoid Type I errors, Bonferroni correction was carried out
in the analyses, with the threshold of p lowered from .05 to be
at .00125 and from .004 to be at .00025.).
As presented in Table 4, ZSAS item 17 was not significantly
negatively related to any SSI item; ZSAS item 5 was significantly
positively related to SSI items 29, 36 and 39 (r=.199 ~ .200,
p≤.00025); ZSAS item 13 was significantly positively related
to SSI items 33 and 34 (r=.197 ~ .208, p≤.00025); the other
ZSAS items were largely significantly positively correlated
with SSI items, with coefficients ranging from .177 (p≤.00125)
to .529 (p≤.00025). These findings suggested that the more
anxious a student was, the greater stress he/she experienced
in various situations, or vice versa, though the stress tended
to be unrelated to dry and warm hands (ZSAS item 17), and
not much related to feeling alright (ZSAS item 5) or breathing
easily (ZSAS item 13). For example, the greater stress a student
experienced in a situation, he/she tended to feel more anxious, more panicky, and had more such physical reactions as feeling
weak and headache. These findings were consistent with the
strong correlations between ZSAS and SSI scales reported in
Table 1, further revealing the strong relationship between
anxiety and stress in the participants of this study.
Sources of Student Anxiety
Of 322 survey respondents, 318 responded to the openended
questions, of whom 149 (46.86%) reported often
feeling anxious, 75 (23.58%) feeling anxious sometimes and
94 (29.56%) not feeling anxious. On the whole, around 70%
of the participants reported feeling anxious when studying
for Ph.D degrees, especially prior to the oral defense of their
dissertation proposals/dissertations. For example,
anxious day by day. It is always like this. I cant find any good
solution. I particularly need to talk to someone to let out my
pressure (No.60). Some students were so anxious that they
had already been diagnosed of depression. When asked about
reasons for anxiety, the respondents reported a number of
causes, which are summarized in Table 5.
As seen from Table 5, paper publication was the primary
reason for student anxiety, followed by research, graduation,
study, the future, graduation dissertation, the supervisor, and
being too busy with too much work respectively. As reported
by the participants, they were anxious about publication in
that they were unable to write out (satisfying/good) papers or
meet the requirements of paper publication, and that it was
difficult to get a paper published, especially in top-ranking
journals (e.g., those indexed in SSCI, A&HCI, SCI, IEEE, EI and
so on). In addition, in order to foster doctoral students with
great competence and enhance academic reputation, most
universities and departments specified the number of papers
and the type of journals a student had to publish in order
to graduate in time. This was (rather) challenging to most
students. Similar to paper publication, research was reported
to be another important cause for anxiety by the respondents
in that there was too much to do, or there was little progress
in their projects, or they did not know how to do research, or
the projects were (too) challenging. For example,
often occur in experiments but I cant find out reasons and
dont know how to improve (No. 144). Highly related to
publication and research, to graduate in time was also anxietyprovoking
to many participants, mainly because it was difficult
to meet graduation requirements. As a student confided, It is
too difficult to graduate. I cant publish a paper, no way to get
Ill have to quit (No. 51).
In addition, some participants worried about their future. To
them, their future, including future development, seemed
unpredictable, or they did not have a specific goal for their
future. Meanwhile, their supervisors imposed (great) stress
and anxiety on the participants. As they reported, their
supervisors often shouted at them or took it out on them
when they were in bad moods, or demanded too much of
them which could hardly be satisfied, or did not supervise
them properly, or asked them to do errands or things unrelated
to their research, and so on. Example comments were: My supervisor is not emotionally stable, he is likely to take it out
on me or shout at me anytime (No. 32).
I receive is messy and my supervisor frequently changes my
projects (No. 173). Moreover, course assignments, projects,
tasks set by supervisors, and so on kept the students busy,
leaving them little free time and driving them anxious. I always
have a lot to do. They seem to be endless. Gradually, I get tired,
my efficiency becomes low, and I become anxious. Then a
vicious circle comes (No. 153). Furthermore, the respondents
reported feeling anxious because they were unable to look
after their parents or there were limited resources available
for their research. As they remarked, I often worry that my
progress cant catch up with the aging of my parents (No. 168).
The lab sets highly challenging requirements for graduation,
but provides limited resources. For example, we are extremely
short of computers (No. 233).
Concurrently, the participants who reported feeling little/no
anxiety also elicited reasons for their lack of anxiety (see Table
5), the most important of which were proactive attitudes,
companion, comfort/support from friends, boy-/girl- friends
and family members, persistent hard work, support from
supervisors, and so on. To many participants, being proactive,
including being contented with and grateful to what they
had, made them not anxious but satisfied and happy with
their life and study. For example, I work hard every day, and
I achieve something every day. So I dont feel anxious (No.
315). Planning time and balancing well between study, work
and entertainment made them not anxious as well.
Reliability analyses, factor analyses and correlation analyses
revealed that both ZSAS and SSI scales were highly reliable, as
found in many current studies (Macher et al., 2012; Russell &
Topham, 2012; Welch et al., 2015; Khoshlessan & Das, 2017).
Statistical analyses revealed that around one third of the
participants suffered from anxiety both physically and mentally
and that they were generally under (high) stress in various
situations, as found in many existing studies (Holmes et al.,
2018; Huang, 2014; Jiang et al., 2003; Welch et al., 2015; Xiao
& Wong, 2014). It was the same with male, female and firstyear
students as well as those in other years of study and
those who had passed, failed or not taken the Ph.D qualifying
examination. Analyses of the participants responses showed
that around 70% of them were anxious and many were highly
anxious, not only further supporting the survey findings but
indicating that greater anxiety might exist in more doctoral
students. This suggests that anxiety is an important issue which
deserves further research in that it involves a huge group of
learners who strive to be talents in various fields in the future.
Though no statistically significant difference was observed in
either anxiety or stress levels between genders, or between
first-year students and those in other years of study, partially
consistent with that in Vitasari et al. (2010), students who
had failed the qualifying examination reported to be under
significantly greater stress than their peers who had passed or
had not taken the exam. This might be because the qualifying examination was indeed a threshold for them and failure in it
scared them. Nevertheless, since only three of the participants
failed in the exam, this sample was too small compared with
the numbers of those who had passed (n=132) and who had not taken the exam (n=197). Consequently, this issue needs
to be further researched on a larger sample to obtain more
Meanwhile, analyses of the data showed that the respondents,
whatever specific groups they were in, reported higher mental
anxiety than their physical anxiety, which might be because
mind came before action. This also indicates that students might
not beware of the anxiety they are experiencing, which further
justifies the complex nature of the issue and the importance of
continuous research on it. Moreover, the participants suffered
greater research-related stress than that from other sources,
partially similar to the finding in Ocak and Ataseven (2016) who
found research anxiety was high in Turkish graduate students.
Consistent with the respondents responses to the open-ended
questions, this was largely because Ph.D study was meant to
educate researchers and scientists whose primary task was to
do research (well). This was further supported by the reasons
for anxiety identified by the respondents. As summarized in
Table 5, the most commonly identified causes for anxiety all
centered around research like publishing papers, graduating in
time, and graduation dissertation, characteristic of Ph.D study.
Furthermore, as found in other studies (Desouky & Allam,
2017; James & Perry, 1978; Resell & Topham, 2012), income,
relationship with others and self-confidence all led to anxiety
and stress in the participants to varying degrees.
In addition, the present study revealed that student anxiety
and stress were highly related to each other. High coefficients
were obtained between ZSAS and ISS scales and individual
items, similar to those between anxiety and stress in situations
with other sample populations like teachers and tourists
(Ahmed & Julius, 2015; Desouky & Allam, 2017; Stewart et al.,
1997). And the causes for anxiety identified by the participants
were also the stress they experienced in different situations
such as pressure from supervisors, research, peers and family
members, low income and worry about the future, including
self-development, as discussed in Cloninger et al. (1991) and
Jungbluth et al. (2011).
The present study investigated anxiety and sources of anxiety
in Chinese doctoral students. The study revealed that the
respondents were largely anxious both physically and mentally
and experienced (high) stress in various situations, and that
the anxiety was attributed to a number of causes such as
research, study load, graduation and the future. The study also
showed that student anxiety and stress were highly related to
These findings, as well as those in the current literature (Chapell
et al., 2005; Dunn, 2014; Holmes et al., 2018; Hughes & Gullone,
2008; Liu, 2016, 2018; Xiao & Wong, 2014), further indicate
that anxiety is a serious issue in (doctoral) students, which
causes both mental and physical reactions in them, especially
in highly stressful situations. To cope with anxiety, selfawareness
is crucial before other strategies are executed. Then
students themselves can adopt various strategies to reduce
anxiety, such as establishing friendly and supportive relations
with friends and families, communicating and sharing ideas,
being proactive, living a regular life, doing exercises, setting
clear goals, and becoming (more) competent, as suggested by the participants in the present research. Meanwhile, doctoral
students should empower themselves with various kinds of
knowledge and skills required to do research well, so that
they might suffer less from research anxiety or the qualifying
examination, as found in this research. Their life might be more
enjoyable if their supervisors could focus on supervision more
rather than ask them to run errands and be empathetic and
supportive to them.
In addition, studies have shown that anxiety can be reduced
by training or methods like humor and other interventions
(Berk, 2000; Pan & Tang, 2004; Pelton, 2014; Ratanasiripong,
Kaewboonchoo, Ratanasiripong, Hanklang, & Chumchai,
2015; Yusufov et al., 2019). For example, Berks (2000) 6-year
long study showed that humor reduced anxiety in both
undergraduate and graduate students and improved their
performance. The researcher thus suggested integrating
humorous elements into tests. Pan and Tang (2004) examined
the effectiveness of innovative instructional methods on
reducing statistics anxiety in 21 graduate students in social
sciences. The results indicated that application-oriented
teaching methods and instructors attentiveness to students
anxiety helped reduce the students anxiety. Student anxiety
can also be reduced by teaching seminars (Pelton, 2014)
and biofeedback intervention (Ratanasiripong et al., 2015).
Ratanasiripong et al.s (2015) study of 60 graduate students
proved that biofeedback intervention was a cost-effective tool
to help graduate students manage their anxiety and stress.
This finding was further supported by a subsequent similar
study (Yusufov et al., 2019) which examined the effectiveness
of stress reduction interventions for undergraduate and
graduate students. The study showed that interventions, like
relaxation training, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and
psychoeducation were (more) effective in reducing students
anxiety. Hence, interventions can be used in teaching and
learning to help reduce anxiety at all educational levels.
What is discussed above lends further support to the belief
that anxiety is complex (Fimian, 1984) and deserves continuous
research. Since doctoral students differ from one another in
various aspects such as gender, age, program, goal, research
training and ability, relationship with friends, family members
and supervisors, research on anxiety with different learners will
help us better understand the issue and then better empower
us to handle it. Moreover, as anxiety is situational and dynamic
(Buitink & Kemme, 1986), longitudinal studies will help elicit
more information on how student anxiety changes over time
and what contributes to the changes. Moreover, studies
employing other scales and/or mixed methods are needed to
confirm the findings of the present research, which may also
help reveal other interesting findings.
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