Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Beyond prevalence to process: the role of self and identity in medical student well-being

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Open Access permissions



Ken Mavor, Kathleen G. McNeill, Katrina Anderson, Annelise Kerr, Erin O'Reilly, Michael J Platow

School/Research organisations


Problematic stress levels among medical students have been well established. This stress can lead to depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, burnout and cynicism, having a negative effect on students and their patients.
We propose to move towards examining the processes underlying well-being in some medical students and vulnerability in others. We draw upon social psychological literature to propose that self-complexity, medical student identity and associated norms all have the capacity to influence medical students' well-being in both positive and negative ways.
We identify two key dilemmas facing medical students with regard to the social psychological factors investigated. First, a diverse set of interests and a high level of self-complexity is thought to buffer against the effects of stress and might also be beneficial for medical practitioners, but the intensive nature of medical education makes it difficult for students to pursue outside interests, leading to a strongly focused identity. Second, a strong group identity is associated with high levels of social support and improved well-being, but unhealthy group norms may have a greater influence on individuals who have a strong group identity, encouraging them to engage in behaviours that place their well-being at risk. A model is proposed outlining how these potentially contradictory social psychological processes may combine to impact upon medical students' well-being.
There is great scope for investigating the role of self-complexity, identity and norms in the medical education context, with room to investigate each of these factors alone and in combination. We highlight how our proposed model can inform medical educators as to the students who may be most vulnerable to the effects of stress and the potential interventions from which they may benefit. We conclude that social psychological factors make a valuable contribution to understanding the complex issue of well-being in medical education.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-360
Number of pages10
JournalMedical Education
Issue number4
Early online date9 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. A social identity approach to religion: religiosity at the nexus of personal and collective self

    Mavor, K. I. & Ysseldyk, R., 10 Apr 2020, The science of religion, spirituality, and existentialism. Vail III, K. E. & Routlledge, C. (eds.). Academic Press, p. 187-205

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

  2. ‘That’s not funny!’ Standing up against disparaging humor

    Thomas, E., McGarty, C., Spears, R., Livingstone, A., Platow, M., Lala, G. & Mavor, K., Jan 2020, In: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 86, 17 p., 103901.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  3. Social identification and academic performance: integrating two existing models of tertiary student learning

    Smyth, L., Mavor, K. I. & Platow, M. J., 3 Apr 2019, In: Educational Psychology. 39, 3, p. 409-425 17 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  4. One step further: Face your fear: (Chapter breakout commentary)

    Mavor, K., 2019, Psychology (Textbook). Burton, L., Westen, D. & Kowalski, R. (eds.). 5th ed. Brisbane, Australia: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, p. 74-75 1 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingOther contribution

Related by journal

  1. Medical Education (Journal)

    Anita Helen Laidlaw (Editor)

    2007 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial work typesEditor of research journal

Related by journal

  1. Moving beyond being a ‘good doctor’ to thinking about ‘good doctoring processes’

    Gordon, L. J., Mar 2017, In: Medical Education. 51, 3, p. 237–238

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

  2. Dimensions, discourses and differences: trainees conceptualising health care leadership and followership

    Gordon, L. J., Rees, C. E., Ker, J. S. & Cleland, J., Dec 2015, In: Medical Education. 49, 12, p. 1248-62 15 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  3. Moving toward a complex systems view in medical student well-being research

    Mavor, K. & McNeill, K., Oct 2014, In: Medical Education. 48, 10, p. 941-943 3 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

  4. When Only the Real Thing Will Do: Junior Medical Students' Learning From Real Patients

    Steven, K. A., Dornan, T., Boshuizen, H. & Scherpbier, A., Nov 2009, In: Medical Education. 43, 11

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

ID: 80715024