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Self-Talk and academic performance

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The self-talk of a group of undergraduate students, both in general day-to-day and academic situations, was compiled and the effect on students’ academic performances was analysed. The results show that: (1) there is a correlation between the valence of general self-talk and academic self-talk; (2) participants exhibit more positive than negative self-talk, although they report more negative self-talk when faced with a more difficult compared to an easier academic subject, while positive academic self-talk was higher in the easy than in the more difficult academic subjects; (3) the negative valence of self-talk (general and academic), is correlated with the negative results predicted by the students six weeks before doing the examination and (4) for the difficult academic subject, but nor for easier subject, students who suspend report using less positive academic self-talk and more negative academic self-talk than those who passes. These results to encourage for wondering about the utility of training in the use of appropriate self-talk for coping academic situations perceived as difficult and improve students performance in such situations.
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anales de psicología, 2016, vol. 32, nº 1 (enero), 139-147
http://dx.doi.org/10.6018/analesps.32.1.188441
© Copyright 2016: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Murcia. Murcia (España)
ISSN edición impresa: 0212-9728. ISSN edición web (http://revistas.um.es/analesps): 1695-2294
- 139 -
Self-talk and academic performance in undergraduate students
Flor Sánchez*, Fernando Carvajal y Carolina Saggiomo
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain).
Título: Autodiálogos y rendimiento académico en estudiantes universita-
rios.
Resumen: En este trabajo se identificaron los autodiálogos de un grupo de
estudiantes en situaciones cotidianas y en situaciones académicas de evalua-
ción. Posteriormente, se analizó la relación entre los autodiálogos y el ren-
dimiento académico. Los resultados muestran que: (1) existe correlación en-
tre las valencias del autodiálogo general y el autodiálogo académico; (2) los
participantes muestran más autodiálogo positivo que negativo, tanto en su
vida cotidiana como en situaciones académicas. En relación a estas últimas,
los participantes informan más autodiálogo negativo y menos autodiálogo
positivo ante la evaluación de una materia académica percibida como difícil
que ante una percibida como fácil; (3) la valencia negativa de los autodiálo-
gos (general y académico) correlacionó con los resultados académicos nega-
tivos anticipados por los estudiantes seis semanas antes de realizar el exa-
men y (4) en el caso de la materia valorada como difícil, los resultados aca-
démicos obtenidos en el examen guardan una estrecha relación con el ren-
dimiento anticipado. Encontramos en los resultados argumentos para refle-
xionar sobre la utilidad que podría tener el entrenamiento en el uso de au-
todiálogos adecuados para facilitar el afrontamiento de situaciones acadé-
micas percibidas como difíciles y mejorar el rendimiento de los estudiantes
en tales situaciones.
Palabras clave: Autodiálogo; valencia emocional; rendimiento académico;
estudiantes universitarios.
Abstract: The self-talk of a group of undergraduate students, both in gen-
eral day-to-day and academic situations, was compiled and the effect on
students’ academic performances was analysed. The results show that: (1)
there is a correlation between the valence of general self-talk and academic
self-talk; (2) participants exhibit more positive than negative self-talk, alt-
hough they report more negative self-talk when faced with a more difficult
compared to an easier academic subject, while positive academic self-talk
was higher in the easy than in the more difficult academic subjects; (3) the
negative valence of self-talk (general and academic), is correlated with the
negative results predicted by the students six weeks before doing the exam-
ination and (4) for the difficult academic subject, but nor for easier subject,
students who suspend report using less positive academic self-talk and
more negative academic self-talk than those who passes. These results to
encourage for wondering about the utility of training in the use of appro-
priate self-talk for coping academic situations perceived as difficult and im-
prove students performance in such situations.
Key words: Self-talk; valence; academic performance; undergraduate stu-
dents.
Introduction
Andrea is preparing for a difficult exam. She suddenly hears
herself saying ―I’m not going to pass‖. Marta is preparing for
the same exam and she tells herself ―I think I’ll get a good
mark‖. Are these messages they are sending to themselves
just this once or are they part of a pattern or tendency? Do
these messages affect the academic results they obtain? Both
of them have just engaged in a process of self-talk. This self-
talk is a commonly used behaviour by 96% of adults and
considered useful by 72% (Winsler, Feder, Way, & Manfra,
2006); according to some theoretical perspectives, such as
The Cognitive Social Theory (Bandura, 1986) and The Self-
Persuasion Theory (Aronson, 1999), self-talk is a basic pro-
cess in the regulation of behaviour.
Individuals use these internal dialogues to interpret their
feelings and beliefs and to give themselves instructions and
encouragement (Hackfort & Schwenkmezger, 1993, cited in
Hardy, 2006). Since this is a cognitive process that is repeat-
ed it could constitute a style of conversing with one-self. Re-
search into the relationship between self-talk, thinking and
behaviour began with the studies by Vigostky (1937/1987).
He proposed that self-talk forms part of the developmental
process of thinking in children who, by first speaking to
themselves aloud (private speech), then afterwards in silence
(inner speech) interiorize, by means of language, the
* Dirección para correspondencia [Correspondence address]:
Flor Sánchez. Departamento de Psicología Social y Metodología. Ivan
Pavlov, 6. Cantoblanco. CP 28049. Madrid (Spain).
E-mail: flor.sanchez@uam.es
knowledge learned socially. Instead of requiring orders
from others to regulate their behaviour, children learn by us-
ing self-talk to organize themselves, as if they were talking to
someone else (Vigotsky 1934/1987; Winsler, 2009). This
verbal self-guidance reflects an important transformation in
cognitive development, self-awareness and executive con-
trol: children talk to themselves to control their own behav-
iour.
In spite of its ubiquity and frequency, self-talk, a phe-
nomenon that has been paid little interest by academic psy-
chology receives considerable attention in applied settings
because of the relationship it is credited to have with per-
formance, whether this be academic (DeCaro, Rotar, Ken-
dra, & Beilock, 2010; Winsler & Naglieri, 2003), work-
related (Brown, 2003; Latham & Budworth, 2006), artistic
(Broomhead, Skidmore, Eggett, & Mills, 2010) or, especially,
in sport (Hardy, 2006; Hatzigeorgiadis, Theodorakis, &
Zourbanos, 2004; Theodorakis, Weinberg, Natsis, Douma,
& Kazakas, 2000). In the light of this evidence, research has
steadily progressed towards identifying the functions and
mechanisms underlying the effect of self-talk on perfor-
mance (Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, Goltsios, & Theodora-
kis, 2008). In a recent study, after analysing empirical studies
that would include at least one control group to compare the
results, Dolcos, Wilson, Sánchez & Albarracín (in press)
propose a model to study the role of attention, motivation,
self-efficacy and affective processes as potential mediating
mechanisms in the relationship between the self-talk and ac-
ademic, sports or work performance.
140 Flor Sánchez et al.
anales de psicología, 2016, vol. 32, nº 1 (enero)
Among the factors studied to understand the relation-
ship and the effects of self-talk on performance (whether the
self-talk is written or spoken, expressed audibly or in silence,
if it is chosen by the individual or assigned by the researcher
etc.), the valence of the self-talk is given particular im-
portance. Valence refers to the emotional nature of the self-
talk and can be interpreted as positive self-assessment (self-
reinforcement, self-confidence etc) or constant self-criticism
and negative self-assessment. In the studies carried out to
date, most in the field of sport, although some authors
found no evidence that performance is improved with the
use of positive self-talk (Highlen & Bennett, 1983), findings,
on the whole, suggest that positive self-talk, compared with
negative or no self-talk, tend to improve performance in dif-
ferent sports (Dagrou, Gauvin, & Halliwell, 1992; Van
Raalte, Brewer, Lewis, Linder, Wildman, & Kozimor, 1995).
Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that the effects of positive
self-talk on performance are more clearly seen in experi-
mental studies than in field work (Hardy, 2006). In the latter,
it is more complicated to make observations and compile
data on the self-talk used although, by applying observation
techniques specially designed for this purpose, Van Raalte et
al. (1995) recorded in a tennis competition that the winners
used less negative self-talk than the losers, although there
were no differences between them in the use of positive self-
talk. The authors suggest that this is perhaps because the
positive self-talk would be more likely to be internalized and,
therefore, not audible or measurable. This explanation
would be supported by data that show that negative self-talk
expressed openly could be associated with negative emo-
tions, which are more frequent when one is failing at a task,
in this case at a sport (Van Raalte, Cornelius, Brewer, &
Hatten, 2000).
Self-talk and academic performance
Although not the main scope of studies that have fo-
cused on the relationship between self-talk and performance,
the data available show that self-talk, whether it be of an in-
structional nature (to give guidance in a task) or motivational
(to give encouragement and to maintain the level of effort)
affects academic performance. Most studies have consist-
ently supported a role for the use of positive self-talk com-
pared to no self-talk (DeCaro et al. 2010; Emerson &
Miyake, 2003). In fact, the suppression of self-talk, by mak-
ing students perform another simple verbal task at the same
time as the main task, can affect self-control, leading to a
more impulsive behaviour (Tullett & Inzlicht, 2010) and de-
creasing performance in the task (Emerson & Miyake, 2003;
Goschke, 2000; Miyake, Emerson, Padilla, & Ahn, 2004).
On the other hand, there is some consensus that an im-
portant element to explain the effectiveness of self-talk in
the acquisition of skills and performance is the difficulty or
complexity of the task. Hence, self-talk is especially common
in tasks individuals find difficult to perform (Duncan &
Cheyne, 2001). In a study by Manning (1990), the children
used more self-talk when they were weak at some verbal or
mathematical skill; also, DeCaro et al. (2010) showed that
saying aloud the steps required to resolve a difficult academ-
ic task when under pressure (instructional dialogue) helped
students to control the anxiety and stress that affected their
performance in the task. These self-instructions, used by the
participants when switching tasks, tend to favour perfor-
mance, suggesting that verbal self-guidance helps to increase
executive control (Emerson & Miyake, 2003). Moreover,
verbal labelling studies show that speaking a label aloud dur-
ing a search task improves performance in the task (Lupyan
& Spivey, 2010). Regarding the purpose of motivational self-
talk, the self-affirmations expressed by students help them
to maintain or improve their degree of motivation in aca-
demic situations by emphasizing the main objective or goal
of their learning efforts and the reasons to persist in, or
complete, the task (Wolters, 1999). It seems that instruction-
al and motivational self-talk have complementary effects on
academic performance since, as other authors point out
(Schwinger, Steinmayr, & Spinmath, 2012), self-talk targeting
performance boosts effort and achievement which, in turn,
are reinforced by the achievement of objectives.
In the meta-analysis carried out by Dolcos et al. (in
press), most studies have analysed the effects of the partici-
pants’ self-talk, either induced or spontaneous, on the task
assigned by the researcher, but no studies were found that
analyzed the particular characteristics or style of the self-talk
used in day-to-day life, or the possible relationship between
this self-talk and the individual’s health, satisfaction at work
or academic performance. In this work, we have focused on
the latter aspect and, for this purpose, have studied whether
the self-talk that people use in different day-to-day situa-
tions, including academic ones, are related to their expecta-
tions and academic results.
Study objectives
We study the relationship between the type of self-talk
used by a sample of university students and their academic
performance. The first objective consists in trying to identify
patterns or trends in the valence of the participants’ self-talk.
Given the composition of the sample, and taking into ac-
count the results found in previous studies with similar sam-
ples (Calvete et al., 2005), we expect to find a dominance of posi-
tive rather than negative self-talk and consider this as our first study
hypothesis.
In accordance with the main objective of this work,
among the day-to-day situations that the participants can en-
counter, we focus here on situations of academic evaluation.
For this reason, the second objective was to analyse the ex-
istence of a possible relationship between the type of self-
talk that the students use in daily situations, which we refer
to as general self-talk, and the self-talk they use in situations
of academic evaluation, which we call academic self-talk. To
study this relationship, we considered academic situations of
variable levels of difficulty. The second hypothesis proposes that
Self-talk and academic performance in undergraduate students 141
anales de psicología, 2016, vol. 32, nº 1 (enero)
the valence of the general self-talk is related to the valence of the self-
talk used in academic situations of varying degrees of difficulty.
The third objective of this study was to analyse the rela-
tionship between self-talk (general and academic) and the
participants’ academic qualifications. To do this, instead of
giving the students sentences or words to repeat, which is
the method followed in most of the reviewed studies, we
asked them to repeat the self-talk that they themselves had
reported using in situations of academic evaluation. The third
hypothesis, therefore, proposes that the valence of the self-talk reported
by participants is related to the academic qualifications they expect to
achieve.
To complete the analysis of the relationship between real
academic performance and self-talk, we consider it im-
portant to include the qualifications obtained by the partici-
pants some weeks after finishing the exams in the academic
subjects studied and propose a fourth hypothesis, that the students
with a poorer academic performance (those who fail the subject) would
report more negative general and academic self-talk than the students
who obtain better results (those who pass).
Method
Participants
The participants were 177 undergraduate students study-
ing the first year of the Psychology Degree at the Univer-
sidad Autonoma de Madrid. The final sample was composed
of 55 men and 122 women. The mean age was 19.14 years
(SD=1.9).
Variables and Measures
General self-talk
We used the Self-Talk Inventory (STI) for young adults
developed by Calvete et al., 2005 to identify and assess the
positive and negative self-talk of university students and to
analyse the relationship with affective problems. The STI
consists of 52 items and two scales of 26 items, one to iden-
tify negative self-talk and the other to identify positive self-
talk. To assess the self-talk, the inventory describes 10 imag-
inary situations of daily life and asks participants to record
what they would think and say to themselves if any of the
situations happened to them. The participants answered us-
ing a scale of 1 to 4 (1=very unlikely to 4= very likely). The
sum of the scores assigned to the group of items in each
scale can be used to obtain the value of positive and negative
self-talk for each person. Application of this scale in the pre-
sent study gives satisfactory values of reliability (Chron-
bach’s Alpha), similar to those described in the original
study. For the positive scale, a value of 0.78 was obtained
(0.80 in Calvete et al., 2005) and a value of 0.90 for the nega-
tive self-talk in both studies. The correlation between both
scales is close to zero (-.02 in our study and -.07 in the origi-
nal), reflecting an independence between the positive and
negative dimensions in the general self-talk.
Academic self-talk
Following Brown’s procedure (2003) to analyze the rela-
tionship between self-talk and performance, we designed
and applied the Self-Talk Academic Scale (STAS) composed
of 6 items (Sánchez, Carvajal and Saggiomo, 2011). This
was done by compiling conversations the students had had
with themselves after doing the exam. These were then as-
sessed by two independent judges who selected 3 items of a
positive valence and 3 items of negative valence, which were
then used to compose the scale. Using a 4-point scale (1=
very likely to 4= very unlikely), the students had to anticipate
the extent to which they would say to themselves what was
indicated in each item if they were found in the two academ-
ic situations described. A high score in items 1, 4 and 6 im-
plies the use of positive academic self-talk and a high score
in items 2, 3, 5 negative academic self-talk. The items used
in the scale and the instructions needed to complete it ap-
pear below:
The following day ………… of …………. (month) you will have
exam ……… (easy or difficult academic subject). Imagine that the
exam has finished. You would tell yourself:
1. I had prepared the subject matter and concepts sys-
tematically and in depth.
2. I haven’t had all the time I needed to study
3. Unfortunately, this exam has been a wasted oppor-
tunity
4. I found the exam difficult
5. I felt terrible when I thought about having to do this
exam.
6. I have invested a lot of interest and effort preparing
for this exam and I expect to get a good mark.
This scale show acceptable reliability indices (measured
by Cronbach Alpha) of .78 on the positive academic self-talk
scale and .72 on the negative academic self-talk scale and a
significant negative correlation between positive self-talk ac-
ademic and the negative self-talk academic (r = -.24; p
<.001).
Difficulty of academic subjects
On the basis of students’ academic results for subjects
in the year prior to the study on the first-year psychology
syllabus, - two subjects with different levels of difficulty
were chosen: Neuroscience and Behaviour I as the difficult
subject (64% pass rate, average mark = 5.47; SE = 1.96),
and Introduction to Psychology I as the easy subject (92%
pass rate, average mark = 6.79, SE = 1.38). The academic
results for both these subjects were different in relation to
the percentage of students passing the subjects in the first
sitting (
2(1, N = 73) = 72.64, p < .0001), and in the aver-
age mark obtained (t(72) = 6.72; p < .0001).
142 Flor Sánchez et al.
anales de psicología, 2016, vol. 32, nº 1 (enero)
Academic performance: expected and empirical
To measure this variable, data were recorded of the ex-
pected and the real performances of students in the easy and
difficult academic subjects.
Negative expected academic performance. This was meas-
ured on the basis of the answers participants gave to the
item ―I’m definitely going to fail‖ six weeks before taking
the exam. Response to this item was given on a 4 point scale
(1= very unlikely, 2= quite unlikely, 3= quite likely, 4= very
likely).
Empirical academic performance. This was assessed by
considering the percentage of students who passed or failed
the easy and difficult subjects and the marks they obtained.
Procedure
Together, students completed the Self-Talk Inventory
for young adults (Calvete et al., 2005) and the scale specifi-
cally designed to measure self-talk in academic situations
(STAS). Data were collected six weeks before the exam
dates for selected academic subjects, this included the holi-
day period and was chosen for being a time when the stu-
dents would be familiar with the subjects, classes would have
finished and students would probably also have formulated
expectations and predictions about their results. Participa-
tion in the study was voluntary; students signed the in-
formed consent and received no direct benefit or financial
compensation for carrying out the task, which took around
15 minutes to complete. In accordance with the objectives
of the work, after finishing the exams, the qualifications ob-
tained by the students for each subject were included in the
analysis. Approval to carry out the study was granted by the
Ethical Committee of the Universidad Autónoma de Ma-
drid.
Results
General and Academic self-talk
As can be observed in Table 1, the results show that, as
expected, the participants significantly report a greater use of
positive than negative self-talk in daily life. A similar pattern
appears in the self-talk used in academic situations, in which
students also report a significantly greater use of positive
than negative self-talk.
Table 1. Reported self-talk (Descriptive Statistics in percentage).
General (STI)
Academic in difficult subject
Academic in easy subject
Self-Talk Valence
Positive
Negative
Positive
Negative
Positive
Negative
Positive
negative
Mean
62.67
50.69
31.48
25.18
29.92
26.17
32.84
24.26
SD
8.64
11.77
6.04
6.07
6.84
7.02
7.01
6.38
Using the data about the self-talk used in relation to the
difficult and easy subjects, a two factors difficulty of subject
(difficult vs easy) x valence of self-talk (positive vs negative)
ANOVA of repeated measures was computed.This revealed
the main effect of the difficulty of the subject (F(1,176) =
14.75, p <.0001) and self-talk valence (F(1,176) = 80.86, p
<.0001); there was also a significant interaction effect be-
tween both factors (F(1,176) = 24.06, p <.0001). Subsequent
analyses (Bonferroni, p <.0001) showed that while the per-
centage of positive academic self-talk was higher in the easy
than in the more difficult academic subject (p <.0001), the
percentage of negative self-talk was higher in the more diffi-
cult than in the easier subject (p <.05).
A significant correlation was found between positive
general self-talk and positive academic self-talk both for the
easy and the difficult academic subjects (r = .35 and .29; p
<.0001). There was also a significant correlation between
negative general self-talk and negative academic self-talk in
both subjects (r = .41 and .32; p <.0001). Similarly, a signifi-
cant correlation was found between academic self-talk in the
two subjects, both when the valence was positive (r = .53; p
<.001) and also when it was negative (r = .66; p <.0001).
The data also indicate a degree of independence between
positive and negative academic self-talk for the easy subject
(r = -.12; p =.09). By contrast, a significant negative correla-
tion was obtained between both types of academic self-talk
in the case of the difficult subject (r = -.27; p <.0001).
Relationship between self-talk and expected nega-
tive academic performance
This relationship was studied by considering participants’
response in the item ―I’m definitely going to fail”, with scores
ranging from 1 (very unlikely) to 4 (very likely). More specif-
ically, they were asked to predict what they would say to
themselves 6 weeks later, when they took the exams in the
easy and difficult subjects.
In the case of the difficult subject, 69 students said that it
was very unlikely that they would fail six weeks later; 80 that
it was quite unlikely, 15 that it was quite likely and 13 that it
was very likely. For the easy subject, the answers ranged
from 91 very unlikely, 63 quite unlikely, 17 quite likely and 6
very likely. Both distributions were different (2(3, N = 177)
= 18.31, p <.0001), in that students marked the categories
very unlikely to fail or quite unlikely to fail more often in the
easy than in the difficult subject (2 (1, N = 177) = 10.95 y
7.12, p <.01), there were no differences in the frequency
with which the participants selected the quite likely to fail
category in the two subjects (2(1, N = 177) = 0.26, p = .61),
and more students chose the category very likely to fail in
Self-talk and academic performance in undergraduate students 143
anales de psicología, 2016, vol. 32, nº 1 (enero)
the difficult than in the easy subject (2(1, N = 177) = 8.45,
p <.01).
Given that in both subjects the categories quite likely to
fail and very likely to fail were chosen by few students, we
decided to group these together; so, three levels were estab-
lished: very unlikely (score 1), quite unlikely (score 2) and
quite or very likely (scores 3 and 4) and the analytical tests
were applied to the data.
Table 2 shows the means and standard deviations of the
scores in the general self-talk and in the academic self-talk in
relation to the predictions made by students about the likeli-
hood that they would fail the exam they were to take 6
weeks later. Four ANOVAs of one factor (the probability of
failing the subject) were carried out: the first for positive
self-talk and the second for negative self-talk in the difficult
subject; and the other two analyses were carried out on the
easy subject, once again the first for positive self-talk and the
second for negative self-talk.
For the difficult subject, the ANOVA was not significant
in the case of positive general self-talk (F(1,176) = 1.86, p =
.15), although it was in the case of negative general self-talk
(F(1,176) = 5.21, p <.01); subsequent tests showed that stu-
dents who say that it is quite or very likely that they will fail
report using more negative general self-talk than those that
say it is quite unlikely or very unlikely that they will fail
(Tukey a, p <.05). For academic self-talk, the comparisons
were significant both in the case of positive academic self-
talk (F(1,176) = 19.61, p <.0001) and negative academic self-
talk (F(1,176) = 43.77, p <.0001); subsequent tests showed
that students who say that it is quite or very likely that they
will fail the difficult subject have less positive academic self-
talk than those who say it is quite or very unlikely that they
will fail the difficult subject (tukey a, p <.0001). Similarly,
students who considered it quite or very likely that they
would fail reported more negative academic self-talk than
those who considered it to be quite unlikely and these, in
turn, report using more negative academic self-talk than
those who said it was very unlikely that they would fail (tuk-
ey a, p <.05).
The results obtained with the easy subject were similar to
those obtained with the difficult subject. Specifically, the
ANOVA for positive general self-talk was not significant
(F(1,176) = 2.17, p = .12) but it was significant for negative
general self-talk (F(1,176) = 12.06, p <.0001), positive aca-
demic self-talk (F(1,176) = 6.73, p <.01) and negative aca-
demic self-talk (F(1,176) = 20.44, p <.0001). The subsequent
analytical tests showed that students who say that it is quite
or very likely that they will fail difficult subjects report more
use of negative general self-talk than those who say it is quite
or very unlikely (tukey a, p <.01); those who say that they are
quite or very likely to fail the difficult subjects have less posi-
tive academic self-talk than those who say that it is quite or
very unlikely that they will fail (tukey a, p <.01), and those
who consider it quite or very likely that they will fail report
using more negative academic self-talk than those who say
that it is quite unlikely and these, in turn, report using more
negative self-talk than those who say that it is very unlikely
that they will fail (tukey a, p <.05).
Table 2. Reported Self-Talk and estimated probability of failing.
Estimated probability of failing
Very unlikely
Quite unlikely
Quite or very likely
Subject
Self-Talk
Self- Talk Valence
Mean SD
Mean SD
Mean SD
Difficult
General
Positive
62.07 8.04
63.60 8.98
60.28 8.70
Negative
48.68 11.28
50.48 11.10
57.86 14.02
Academic
Positive
31.96 6.68
30.32 5.86
23.21 6.10
Negative
21.64 5.22
26.44 6.18
33.61 5.82
Easy
General
Positive
62.32 8.03
63.92 8.51
59.86 10.61
Negative
47.80 11.08
51.60 10.26
60.54 15.12
Academic
Positive
30.70 7.32
30.42 5.04
25.20 7.52
Negative
22.52 5.70
27.28 6.92
31.65 7.26
Relationship between expected academic perfor-
mance and the real qualifications obtained
From the descriptors appearing in Table 3, the relation-
ship was studied between the likelihood that students con-
sidered they would fail the subject and the academic results
obtained six weeks later; and two types of analyses were per-
formed. The first was composed of two single-factor
ANOVAs (one for the easy and one for the difficult subject)
in which the factor was the mark obtained; the second con-
sisted in comparing the distribution of passes and fails.
Table 3. Relation between probability of failing and academic results.
Materia Difícil
Materia Fácil
Expected probability of failing
M
DT
Fail/Pass a
M
DT
Fail/Pass a
Very unlikely
6.19
1.90
18/82
7.95
1.47
5/95
Quite unlikely
5.21
2.14
35/65
7.18
1.43
5/95
Quite or very likely
4.89
1.89
58/42
6.51
1.65
18/82
a Percentage of students who pass the subject.
144 Flor Sánchez et al.
anales de psicología, 2016, vol. 32, nº 1 (enero)
The ANOVAs were significant for both the difficult
subject (F(1,176) = 5.76, p <.01) and the easy subject
(F(1,176) = 4.01, p <.05). The analyses carried out later on
showed that for the difficult subject students who consid-
ered they were very unlikely to fail achieved higher marks
than those who considered they were quite likely or very
likely to fail (tukey a, p <.05). Also, for the easy subject,
those who considered they were very unlikely to fail
achieved higher marks than those who considered they were
quite likely or very likely to fail (tukey a, p <.05); there were
no differences between the group who considered they were
quite unlikely to fail in comparison to the other two groups.
For the difficult subject, the percentage of fails was
higher in students who considered it quite likely or very like-
ly they would fail than in those who considered they were
quite unlikely to fail (2 (1, N = 28) = 6.08, p <.05) and the-
se, in turn, showed a higher percentage of fails than those
who had said six weeks previously that they were very un-
likely to fail (2 (1, N = 80) = 13.70, p <.0001). For the easy
subject, the percentage of fails was higher in students who
thought they were quite or very likely to fail compared to
those who considered they were quite unlikely or very un-
likely to fail (2 (1, N = 23) = 8.56 and 6.58, p <.05), but
there were no differences between the latter two groups (2
(1, N = 63) = 0.64, p =.81).
Self-talk and empirical academic performance
To test the hypothesis about the relationship between
real academic performance and the style of general self-talk
and academic self-talk, students were placed into two groups
according to whether they had passed or failed the subjects
considered (see Table 4). A total of 57 students (32%) failed
and 127 students (68%) passed the difficult subject, while
for the easy academic subject 11 students (6%) failed and
166 passed (94%), showing that more students failed the dif-
ficult than the easy subject (2 (1, N = 177) = 50.76, p
<.0001), and verifying the difference in difficulty between
the subjects.
Table 4. Self-Talk reported (in percentage) by participants who have passed
or failed the easy or difficult subject.
Fails
Passes
Self-Talk
Self-Talk
valence
M
DT
M
DT
Subject
difficult
General
Positive
63.01
9.01
62.21
8.63
Negative
51.66
13.21
51.46
11.57
Academic
Positive
26.41
7.08
31.73
6.35
Negative
28.49
7.30
23.75
6.55
Subject
easy
General
Positive
60.86
8.78
62.44
8.27
Negative
54.78
17.23
50.68
11.40
Academic
Positive
28.06
6.06
29.40
6.89
Negative
27.06
7.98
25.90
7.01
For the difficult subject, the data showed that students
who had passed reported a similar positive and negative
general self-talk to those who had failed (t(175) = 0.52 and
0.19, p = .60 and .84). By contrast, when academic self-talk
was assessed, students who failed the difficult subject re-
ported using less positive academic self-talk (t(175) = 3.05, p
<.01) and more negative academic self-talk than those who
passed (t(175) = 2.35, p <.05). Regarding the easy subject,
there was no difference between scores for positive or nega-
tive general self-talk in students who passed or failed (t(175)
= 0.60 and 1.10, p = .54 and .27), or in positive or negative
academic self-talk (t(175) = 1.09 and 0.85, p = .27 and .39).
Conclusions
The data obtained suggest that students in the sample use
both positive and negative self-talk in daily life, but with a
predominance of positive self-talk, as proposed by the
first hypothesis. This would be in line with previous stud-
ies conducted in subjects without any clinically significant
emotional imbalance (Calvete et al., 2005). Although we
could not identify a personal style of self-talk, the data
support a transversality of the self-talk valences. On the
whole, the results also support the second hypothesis
proposed here. Hence, academic self-talk tends to follow
the same pattern as that used in daily situations: people
who use positive self-talk in some situations also tend to
use it in others. However, one distinguishing factor corre-
sponding to the self-talk associated with academic situa-
tions considered to be difficult is that in these cases, par-
ticipants report less positive and more negative self-talk.
The studies reviewed appear to verify the effects of
self-talk on performance when the evaluation is preceded
by the use of instructional self-talk compared with when
self-talk is suppressed (DeCaro et al., 2010), or by the use
of positive compared to negative self-talk (Cumming,
Nordin, Horton, & Reynolds, 2006). In these works, and
in many others, self-talk is contingent upon performance
of the task. The study design we have used here permits
us to verify that the valence of the self-talk that people as-
sume to use spontaneously and frequently in situations of
academic evaluation are related to the results that they
expect to obtain in a task they will perform several weeks
later. More important still, the valence of the self-talk is a
predictive factor for the qualifications obtained 6 weeks
later; findings that coincide with the proposal made in the
third hypothesis. This predictive nature of self-talk was
dismissed in a study carried out in the field of sport,
which used very different tasks (Van Raalte et al., 2000).
With the type of study carried out here it is not possible
to analyse the possible existence of a causal relationship
between self-talk, the expected results and the real qualifi-
cations obtained. However, the data do support a rela-
tionship between self-talk and academic performance, in
this case, conditioned by the valence of the self-talk. Re-
Self-talk and academic performance in undergraduate students 145
anales de psicología, 2016, vol. 32, nº 1 (enero)
garding the fourth hypothesis, the data support it in part,
as students who obtain a poorer academic result (the ones
who fail), especially in the difficult subject, had reported
more negative academic self-talk than the students with
better results (the ones who pass), although there are no
differences in relation to general self-talk. These findings
show that academic self-talk has very specific effects on
performance in evaluation situations. Given the practical
implications of this, these effects should be analysed in
studies of a much more specific nature since, in some
students, negative academic self-talk is yet one more fac-
tor that can contribute to academic failure.
It is interesting to note that a significant percentage
of students who reported negative self-dialogue expected
negative results (they thought they were going to fail) and,
finally, actually did obtain negative results (they failed);
although a small percentage of students who had used
negative self-talk, finally passed the subject. How can the
different results in both groups be explained? We will en-
deavour here to provide some possible explanations. Re-
garding the students who obtained negative results, pre-
dicted by their self-talk, we can hypothesize that expres-
sion of the self-talk reported in the task they had to per-
form could make them aware of it and result in them pro-
jecting an image of themselves in accordance with the di-
rection, valence and contents of their self-talk. This nega-
tive image (a negative evaluation of the strategies followed
to prepare for the exam, the emotions felt before and dur-
ing the exam, expectations of self-efficacy) could have an
unfavourable effect on their expected and real perfor-
mance if there is no intervention, external or initiated by
them, to counteract these effects. The recreation of a neg-
ative image of oneself can be disabling and can reduce
self-efficacy (Cumming et al., 2006). Several authors agree
that when someone’s belief in their own self-efficacy is
weakened, this has a negative effect on academic perfor-
mance (Galicia-Moyeda, Sánchez-Velasco & Robles-
Ojeda, 2013), as also occurs with other indicators of in-
terpersonal perception (Andrés, Solanas, & Salafranca,
2012). Regarding the students who gave negative reports
about their strategies and expectations of self-efficacy but
finally passed the subject, one could think that, at some
time, they could have reacted against the negative image
they projected of themselves, making it positive, and have
implemented effective strategies to prepare for the exam.
This reaction could be related to an improvement in their
affective state in relation to the exam, their self-efficacy
expectations and, finally, their performance.
Although we consider that this must be addressed in
more specific studies, the plausibility of the explanations
could be endorsed by the results of multiple studies that
have identified negative self-talk associated with a given
task or situation and, following methodologies such as
that of Michembaum (1977), have transformed it into
positive self-talk, resulting in improved performance in
sports activities and at work (Brown, 2003). In our study,
we have only worked with positive and negative self-talk
associated with the evaluation of some academic subjects,
but have not intervened in any way to correct this self-talk
or its possible consequences.
Limitations of the study and new research devel-
opments
The self-talk identified here for academic situations
was obtained by asking students to imagine what they
would say to themselves having just done an exam. We
consider that this would be very similar to the self-talk
that would be obtained at this specific moment in time,
because university students are very familiar with these
situations. However, it would be desirable to verify this by
working with the students at the actual time of the evalua-
tion to ensure that the relationship between the imagined
self-talk and predicted performance is maintained when
the self-talk is contingent upon the real evaluation situa-
tion.
In this study, we did not establish whether the self-talk
used in daily life reported by the students was audible or
silent, nor if this distinction affected the results. Another
important aspect would be to analyse the possible effects
on academic performance of the instructional and motiva-
tional components of the academic self-talk that students
use. Both of these points have been extensively reviewed
previously. However, unlike previous studies that have
not focused on the spontaneous self-talk that students
tend to use in the academic setting, in our work this type
of self-talk constituted the main study object.
As mentioned previously, in our study it is not possi-
ble to analyse the existence of a causal relationship be-
tween the style of self-talk and the academic results ob-
tained, although we do consider that our results support
this relationship. However, to study this in greater depth
we consider it necessary to carry out further studies to,
among other purposes, rule out the influence of personal
and contextual variables that the literature consistently re-
lates to academic performance. In our opinion, designs
and methodologies are required that have more control
over the variables that can affect the academic results and
over the study conditions. Moreover, in a line of research
on which we are already working, we consider it recom-
mendable to broaden and diversify the sample of partici-
pants in the studies, to include students of both sexes,
and of other university and non-university disciplines. Fi-
nally, it has yet to be demonstrated whether the negative
effects that negative self-talk has on academic perfor-
mance can be reversed, by carrying out interventions
146 Flor Sánchez et al.
anales de psicología, 2016, vol. 32, nº 1 (enero)
similar to those proposed by Meichenbaum (1977) and, as
mentioned, have given such good results in non-academic
settings. This could possibly orientate future research into
the effects of the conversations we often have with our-
selves on academic performance.
Acknowledgments: This study hás been conducted within the
framework of the Project DEP2011-27282. Ministerio de Edu-
cación y Ciencia
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Developmental relations between thought, language, and behavior have proved to be perennially interesting to psychologists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers (Nelson, 1996; Pinker, 1994; Vygotsky, 1934/1987). To what extent is language separate from thinking? How does language development influence cognitive development? To what extent is language development dependent upon cognitive growth? How is language used by children as a tool for guiding one's thinking, behavior, or problem solving? One phenomenon that falls at the intersection of many such discussions is children's private speech – children's overt and sometimes partially covert (whispered) self-talk while they are working on something or playing. Children's private speech provides an empirical window for exploring many interesting questions about mind, behavior, and language, especially those having to do with language serving a role in the development of children's executive function or self-regulation. Private speech is typically defined as overt, audible speech that is not addressed to another person (Winsler, Fernyhough, McClaren, & Way, 2004). Inner speech, on the other hand, refers to fully internal, silent verbal thought – that is, speech fully inside one's head. Research on children's private speech, largely that which originated from within the Vygotskian theoretical tradition, has been summarized and reviewed before on two occasions – first, in Zivin's (1979a) volume entitled The Development of Self-Regulation Through Private Speech (Zivin, 1979b), and then 13 years later in Díaz and Berk's (1992) volume, entitled Private Speech: From Social Interaction to Self-Regulation (Berk, 1992). Since then, however, research on private speech and self-talk has blossomed.
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The self-regulation of motivation represents a key feature of self-regulated learning. Recent studies have documented that students use a variety of strategies to sustain their learning motivation and that most of these strategies have positive effects. However, less is known about how students integrate the various motivational strategies into an individual motivational regulation profile and which kind of profiles are most adaptive with respect to enhanced effort and persistence. To shed more light on this issue, we examined the motivational regulation profiles within two samples of German high-school and college students. In Study 1 (N = 231 11th and 12th grade students), latent profile analysis revealed five subgroups of students holding different motivational regulation profiles. In Study 2 (N = 600 college students), the five class solution was replicated with slight changes in the nature of the profiles. In both studies, profiles with a higher overall level of motivational strategy use were associated with a higher level of effort and achievement. Regarding differences in profile shape, results indicated that profiles emphasizing mastery and/or performance-approach self-talk were most adaptive. Implications of the findings for future research on motivational regulation are discussed.