A qualitative investigation of the experience of self-criticism in a student population

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Self-criticism is a trans-diagnostic construct that has been receiving considerable research and clinical attention. The purpose of this systematic review was to explore whether there is evidence from prospective studies that self-criticism is significantly associated with subsequent symptoms of psychopathology in students.
To identify studies for inclusion in this systematic review, searches were carried out in four electronic databases: PsychInfo, Embase, Medline and The Web of Science Core Collection. Inclusion criteria specified a prospective design, a student sample, valid and reliable measurement of self-criticism and symptoms of a common mental health disorder and publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The methodological quality of the included studies was assessed and data was extracted and synthesised.
Sixteen studies were identified, twelve of which explored the relationship between self-criticism and subsequent depressive symptomatology. The remaining studies investigated social anxiety (n=1), depression and anxiety (n=2) and depression and terrorism-related perceived stress (n=1). In terms of depression, all identified studies found a significant relationship, with moderate to strong effect sizes, between self-criticism and subsequent symptoms. Eight (of the twelve studies that tested this) observed self-criticism, with weak to moderate effect sizes, to significantly predict an increase in symptoms over time. In terms of anxiety, all three studies found a significant relationship, with weak to moderate effect sizes, between self-criticism and subsequent symptoms, while none observed an increase in symptoms. The one study of terrorism-related perceived stress found a significant relationship and an increase in symptoms, with weak effect sizes, between self-criticism and subsequent psychopathology. The methodological quality of studies ranged from fair to good, with study attrition, and its subsequent consideration in the analysis process, being a primary methodological flaw. The use of the Depressive Experiences Questionnaire (DEQ) to
measure self-criticism was also problematic as this scale was designed to measure self-critical depression and includes items about depression.
This systematic review provides some evidence that there is a significant prospective relationship between self-criticism and symptoms of psychopathology amongst a student sample, with the strongest evidence for depression. Recommendations were made to carry out prospective research exploring the effects of self-criticism on symptoms of other mental health problems in students, to consider alternative measures of self-criticism and to improve the methodological quality of studies especially in terms of study attrition.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorKatharine Rimes (Supervisor) & Patrick Smith (Supervisor)

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