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Academic self-concept and academic achievement: Relations and causal ordering


Correspondence should be addressed to Professor Herbert W. Marsh, Department of Education, University of Oxford, University Offices, 15 Norham Gardens Rd., Oxford OX2 6PY, UK (e-mail:


Background. A positive self-concept is valued as a desirable outcome in many disciplines of psychology as well as an important mediator to other outcomes.

Aims. The present review examines support for the reciprocal effects model (REM) that posits academic self-concept (ASC) and achievement are mutually reinforcing, each leading to gains in the other – and its extension to other achievement domains.

Method. We review theoretical, methodological, and empirical support for the REM. Critical features in this research are a theoretical emphasis on multidimensional perspectives that focus on specific components of self-concept and a methodological focus on a construct validity approach to evaluating the REM.

Results. Consistent with these distinctions, REM research and a comprehensive meta-analysis show that prior ASC has direct and indirect effects on subsequent achievement, whilst the effects of self-esteem and other non-academic components of self-concept are negligible. We then provide an overview of subsequent support for the generality of the REM for: young children, cross-cultural, health (physical activity), and non-elite (gymnastics) and elite (international swimming championships) sport.

Conclusion. This research is important in demonstrating that increases in ASC lead to increases in subsequent academic achievement and other desirable educational outcomes. Findings confirm that not only is self-concept an important outcome variable in itself, it also plays a central role in affecting other desirable educational outcomes. Implications for educational practice are discussed.