Shippensburg University
Psychology Department

PSI High Newsletter

Volume 22, No. 1
October 1997

Classroom approaches make a difference
Researchers identify crucial conditions
Adolescents give their opinions
Descriptions vary
About Psi High Newsletter
Return to Psychology Department Homepage

What works with students?

According to B. F. Skinner, "Education is what survives when what you learned has been forgotten." What is it that we hope will survive? What teaching methods encourage that survival?

Those are two of the questions that Shippensburg University psychology professor Dr. Lori Nelson has been researching for the last four years. In a project sponsored by the Provost's Office at Shippensburg University, Dr. Nelson first sought to identify desirable educational outcomes. To that end, she surveyed the education literature, reviewed academic policy statements, and interviewed teachers. As a result of those efforts, she concluded that commonly desired results include change in six areas: critical thinking, confidence in one's abilities, creative independence, interest in successful performance, caring for others, and broad-minded appreciation of the world's diversity.

In order to measure change in those six areas, Dr. Nelson used the Need for Cognition scale, the State Self-Esteem Scale, and the Schwartz Value Survey.

The Need for Cognition scale measures enjoyment of cognitive effort.

The Performance Subscale of the State Self-Esteem Scale measures confidence in one's capabilities, including one's intellectual and academic talent.

The Schwartz Value Survey measures the degree to which one values a number of domains, including the following four: Self-Direction -- independence of thought and action; Achievement -- success and competence; Benevolence -- protecting and enhancing others' welfare; and Universalism -- acceptance and understanding of the surrounding world.

At the beginning of the 1995 fall semester, Dr. Nelson administered the scales to 801 incoming freshmen. Near the end of that semester, 539 of those students completed the same measures again. Then, at the beginning of the new term in January, 452 of those freshmen answered questions about a course they had taken in the fall. Although Dr. Nelson analyzed the data in a number of ways, the

comparison that she judged to be the most reliable was average perceptions of a class's characteristics as it related tothe average amount of change (on the measures taken at the beginning and end of the fall semester) within that class. She discovered a number of significant relationships, including the following.

The more often students worked with each other in groups (both inside and outside of the classroom) the greater the increases in Need for Cognition and perceived importance of Achievement and Benevolence.

The larger the proportion of class time spent working in groups, the more students increased in Need for Cognition and perceived importance of Self-Direction, Achievement, Benevolence, and Universalism.

Large proportions of class time devoted to lecturing were associated with lower levels of Need for Cognition and Performance Self-Esteem.

Based on these findings, Dr. Nelson came to the following conclusions. Classroom settings dominated by passive listening and note-taking tend to decrease students' enjoyment of cognitive effort and to diminish confidence in their own abilities. On the other hand, students who become actively involved with class material through group work have more opportunities to engage in effortful thought that is enjoyable, to make and implement their own plans, to see that their abilities are valued, and to develop respect and concern for others. These "overwhelmingly positive" effects demonstrate that group work can help to facilitate a variety of desirable educational outcomes

When is a role model likely to inspire others?

Identifying the essential requirements for a good role model was one of thepurposes of a series of experiments conducted by University of Waterloo psychology professors Dr. Penelope Lockwood and Dr. Ziva Kunda ("Superstars and Me: Predicting the Impact of Role Models on the Self," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1997, 73, 91-103). The researchers predicted that if a role model is to be a good one, there are two central requirements that must be met:

relevance of the person's actions to the targets' interests, and the targets perceiving that they too are capable of attaining similar success.

Relevance can be enhanced in several ways. For example, it is more likely to occur when targets perceive similarities between themselves and the role model. And it is increased when the model's areas of expertise are also domains in which the targets want to excel.

Attainability can be related to a variety of factors. One of them is the targets' perceiving they have the ability to develop the kind of talent displayed by the model. Targets must believe that they could be capable of achieving similar successes. Another factor is developmental disparity between the model and the targets. The endeavors at which the model has excelled should be events that the targets have not yet encountered at their level of development. If that is true, there are two implications. First, achieving similar success to that of the model is still possible because the targets have not yet had an opportunity to attempt the endeavors in which the model has triumphed. Second, the targets can use aspects of the model's past life as a guide for what they should do now in order to have a successful future. In other words, they can be inspired by the model's past and present actions.

The researchers conducted three experiments. The first one focused on the issue of relevance, and the other two examined the concept of attainability. In all three studies the subjects were undergraduate students at the University of Waterloo. And in each experiment the participants rated themselves on a variety of dimensions related to being successful.

In the first study the 50 subjects were future teachers and future accountants enrolled in Introductory Psychology. In the experimental condition, each person read a fictitious newspaper story about an outstanding individual who had achieved a number of career successes. Some subjects read about an accountant and others read about a teacher. After reading the article they rated themselves on the self-evaluation dimensions, and they also rated the achievement level of the model and the relevance of the person to themselves. Control subjects read nothing and simply did the self-evaluations.

As expected, both models were viewed as being high in achievement, and participants saw the professional in their own future career field as being more relevant to them than the other professional. And, as the researchers predicted, participants who read about a person in a career they wanted to pursue gave themselves higher self-evaluations than those who read about a person in an irrelevant career or read nothing at all. The investigators believe that these results support the model's relevance as being an important factor.

The second experiment focused on attainability by having freshman and senior accounting majors (a total of 65 subjects) read a fictitious newspaper article about an outstanding senior accounting major. Experimental subjects read the article, then competed the self-evaluation and relevance ratings. Control subjects read nothing and simply did the self-evaluations.

Freshmen students who read the article rated themselves significantly higher than did freshman who had not read the article. But there was no significant difference between seniors in the control and experimental groups. Seniors did, however, rate the model as being significantly less relevant than did the freshmen. And, in individual interviews, 82% of the freshmen reported being inspired by the model, compared to only 6% of the seniors believing they had been inspired. In a similar vein, 50% of the seniors disparaged the idea of comparing themselves to the model, compared to only 6% of the freshmen doing so. Together these results support the idea that an effective role model needs to be more developmentally advanced than the targets. In this instance, it was too late for the seniors to attempt what the model had done. Consequently, not only did the story not inspire the seniors, half of them actively denigrated the idea of comparing themselves to the model.

In the third study the participants were 57 Introductory Psychology students who had been divided into two categories, based on whether they tended to see the qualities necessary for success as being either fixed or open to change. Experimental subjects read about an outstanding senior in their major, then completed the self-evaluation and relevance scales. Control subjects simply did the self-evaluations.

Among the participants who were more likely to believe that change was possible, experimental subjects rated themselves significantly higher than control subjects. But among the participants taking a more fixed viewpoint, there was no significant difference between self-evaluations of experimental and control subjects. Thus, even if there is a developmental discrepancy between the targets and a relevant model, the targets must be open to the idea that positive change can be accomplished.

The researchers conclude that their experiments provide support for the following ideas. A good model is one whom targets perceive as being relevant and whose accomplishments seem attainable. The characteristic of attainability requires that targets believe they could display similar talent In order for such beliefs to be possible, the model must be at a more advanced developmental level than the targets, so that there is still time to engage in the preparation necessary for them to achieve similar success.

How do you comfort a grieving person?

In their 1996 article "Adolescents' Perceptions and Experiences of Death and Grieving" (Adolescence, 31, 585-595), Shippensburg University psychology professor Dr. Suzanne Morin and West Chester University professor of secondary counseling education Dr. Lesley Welsh reported their findings resulting from a survey of 32 adolescents ranging in age from 13 to 18. Among the many issues investigated, the area eliciting the greatest agreement concerned the participants' ideas for comforting a person who is grieving. Two-thirds of the respondents suggested offering emotional support by talking and listening to the bereaved individual.

What happens on a typical date?

Expectations for a typical heterosexual date were explored in a study ("Who What, When? Effects of College Experience on Dating Expectations,"American Psychological Society, Washington, DC, May, 1997), by Shippensburg University psychology professors Dr. Diane Clark and Dr. Angela Bartoli, and psychology undergraduates Jared Riester, Johann Kisamme, and Andrea Hollister. They provided the 165 college student participants with a list of possible activities and asked for a rating from 1 (low) to 7 (high) in terms of how likely it is to expect each activity to occur on a typical date.

As predicted by the researchers, individuals with more dating experience (defined as seeing ten or more people during the last five years) had a somewhat higher expectation that sexual intercourse would occur as a date outcome (2.29), compared to what less experienced individuals expected (1.42).

In addition to examining the experience factor, the investigators also looked at several other issues, including the degree of agreement between men and women. On some items there was essentially no difference between men and women. For example, on the question of who picks up whom, "male picking up the female" was rated 5.29 by men and 5.66 by women, and on "kissing good night," the ratings

were 5.93 by men and 6.02 by women. But on other items there were differences in compliance between men and women, and there also were differences between men answering variations of the same question.

When asked to rate sexual intercourse as an outcome, the average rating for women was 1.0 and the average rating for men was 2.57. But when asked to rate sexual intercourse as an activity on a typical date, the ratings were 1.1 for women and 3.66 for men. One interpretation of these data is that the self-reports of the men are less reliable than the self-reports of the women. When asked in slightly different ways whether sexual intercourse is expected on a typical date, the women provided

essentially the same ratings (1.0 and 1.1) but the men showed a wider variation (2.57 and 3.66). (That difference is greater than the one found between experienced and less experienced participants [2.29 and 1.42] on the rating of sexual intercourse other inquiries to the as an expected outcome.)

Another question raised by the men's ratings of sexual intercourse is the issue of who they are dating. Since the men's ratings for the likelihood of sexual intercourse are about three times the women's ratings, with whom are the men going out?

A potential explanation for these discrepancies is that college men's stated expectations for sexual intercourse on a typical date are exaggerated, and that the actual frequency of intercourse is less than portrayed by the men.

About Psi High Newsletter

Editor: Kenneth France, Ph.D.

The Psi High Newsletter is published for teachers of high-school psychology by Shippensburg University.