Category Archives: Research

Study: the importance of good teaching conditions for learning

I found this new study by Banerjee et al. via Larry Ferlazzo and while it seems logical to many people in education, this study wants to give empirical evidence for the link between good teaching conditions for educators is positively correlated with student achievement in both math and reading.

Abstract of the study:

Studies have not conclusively established whether teacher job satisfaction improves student achievement or whether the advantages to students from having satisfied teachers vary with the broader school culture. In this article, we investigate two research questions: (1) Is there a relationship between teacher job satisfaction and students’ math and reading growth in elementary school? (2) How do schools’ organizational cultures moderate the relationship between teacher job satisfaction and student achievement growth? We examined these questions using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey and found that teacher job satisfaction has a modest but positive relationship with students’ reading growth but no relationship with students’ math growth between kindergarten and fifth grade. However, school culture and teacher job satisfaction interactively affect student achievement in both math and reading. We argue that future education reforms should place special emphasis on improving teacher job satisfaction and school culture.

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No shit, Sherlock: School bullying linked to lower academic achievement

This study sounds almost too obvious to share, still I think it’s very important: this study that tracked hundreds of children from kindergarten through high school found that chronic or increasing levels of bullying were related to lower academic achievement, a dislike of school and low confidence by students in their own academic abilities.

From the press release:

While pop culture often depicts more frequent bullying in high school, the study found that bullying was more severe and frequent in elementary school and tended to taper off for most students as they got older. However, 24 percent of the children in the study suffered chronic bullying throughout their school years, which was consistently related to lower academic achievement and less engagement in school, said lead researcher Gary Ladd, PhD, a psychology professor at Arizona State University.

“It’s extremely disturbing how many children felt bullied at school,” Ladd said. “For teachers and parents, it’s important to know that victimization tends to decline as kids get older, but some children never stop suffering from bullying during their school years.”

Most studies on bullying have tracked children for relatively short periods of time and focused on psychological effects, such as anxiety or depression. This is the first long-term study to track children for more than a decade from kindergarten through high school and analyze connections between bullying and academic achievement, Ladd said. The research, which was published online in the Journal of Educational Psychology, was part of the Pathways Project, a larger longitudinal study of children’s social, psychological and academic adjustment in school that is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The study, which began with 383 kindergarteners (190 boys, 193 girls) from public schools in Illinois, found several different trajectories for children related to bullying. Children who suffered chronic levels of bullying during their school years (24 percent of sample) had lower academic achievement, a greater dislike of school and less confidence in their academic abilities. Children who had experienced moderate bullying that increased later in their school years (18 percent) had findings similar to kids who were chronically bullied. However, children who suffered decreasing bullying (26 percent) showed fewer academic effects that were similar to youngsters who had experienced little or no bullying (32 percent), which revealed that some children could recover from bullying if it decreased. Boys were significantly more likely to suffer chronic or increasing bullying than girls.

“Some kids are able to escape victimization, and it looks like their school engagement and achievement does tend to recover,” Ladd said. “That’s a very hopeful message.”

The researchers faced the difficult challenge of tracking children for more than a decade, from kindergarten through high school, as some families moved across the United States. The study began in school districts in Illinois, but the children were living in 24 states by the fifth year of the study. “People moved and we had to track them down all over the country,” Ladd said. “We put people in cars or on planes to see these kids.”

The study included annual surveys administered by researchers to the children, teacher evaluations, and standardized reading and math test scores. Children described their own experiences about bullying in questions that asked whether they had been hit, picked on or verbally abused by other kids. Some children may be more sensitive to bullying, with one child who is shoved thinking it is bullying while another might think it is just playful, but parents and teachers shouldn’t dismiss what may seem like minor bullying, Ladd said.

“Frequently, kids who are being victimized or abused by other kids don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I worry most about sensitive kids who are not being taken seriously and who suffer in silence. They are being told that boys will be boys and girls will be girls and that this is just part of growing up.”

The children from the study were followed into early adulthood, although researchers lost track of approximately one-quarter of the youngsters during the lengthy study. Approximately 77 percent of the children in the study were white, 18 percent were African-American, and 4 percent were Hispanic, biracial or had other backgrounds. Almost one-quarter of the children came from families with low annual incomes ($0- $20,000), 37 percent had low to middle incomes ($20,001-$50,000), and 39 percent had middle to high incomes (more than $50,000).

Schools should have anti-bullying programs, and parents should ask their children if they are being bullied or excluded at school, Ladd said. In the early years of the study, school administrators sometimes claimed there weren’t any bullies or victims in their schools, but the researchers stopped hearing that view as bullying has received more attention nationwide, Ladd said.

“There has been a lot of consciousness raising and stories of children being bullied and committing suicide, and that has raised public concern,” he said. “But more needs to be done to ensure that children aren’t bullied, especially for kids who suffer in silence from chronic bullying throughout their school years.”

Abstract of the study:

This investigation’s aims were to map prevalence, normative trends, and patterns of continuity or change in school-based peer victimization throughout formal schooling (i.e., Grades K–12), and determine whether specific victimization patterns (i.e., differential trajectories) were associated with children’s academic performance. A sample of 383 children (193 girls) was followed from kindergarten (Mage = 5.50) through Grade 12 (Mage = 17.89), and measures of peer victimization, school engagement, academic self-perceptions, and achievement were repeatedly administered across this epoch. Although it was the norm for victimization prevalence and frequency to decline across formal schooling, 5 trajectory subtypes were identified, capturing differences in victimization frequency and continuity (i.e., high-chronic, moderate-emerging, early victims, low victims, and nonvictims). Consistent with a chronic stress hypothesis, high-chronic victimization consistently was related to lower—and often prolonged—disparities in school engagement, academic self-perceptions, and academic achievement. For other victimization subtypes, movement into victimization (i.e., moderate-emerging) was associated with lower or declining scores on academic indicators, and movement out of victimization (i.e., early victims) with higher or increasing scores on these indicators (i.e., “recovery”). Findings provide a more complete account of the overall prevalence, stability, and developmental course of school-based peer victimization than has been reported to date.

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Importance of trust, also for youth of color: losing trust in teachers may mean bye bye college

Last week there was this news about two UK schools who would trial the use of police-style bodycams for teachers. As a pedagogue I made straight away the connection with trust. And this new study shows again how important trust is in education: For youth of color, losing trust in teachers may mean losing the chance to make it to college.

From the press release:

In a time of increased concern about how minorities are treated by police, teachers, and other authorities, it is critical to examine whether students of color have experiences in school that lead to mistrust of authorities and what the long-term implications are for young people.

In a new set of longitudinal studies, minority youth perceived and experienced more biased treatment and lost more trust over the middle school years than their White peers. Minority students’ growing lack of trust in turn predicted whether they acted out in school and even whether they made it to college years later.

The research, which appears in the journal Child Development, was conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, and Stanford University.

“The end of seventh grade seems to be a period for developing trust in institutions like school,” explains David S. Yeager, assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who led the study. “When adolescents see that school rules aren’t fair to people who look like them, they lose trust and then disengage. But it doesn’t have to be this way; teachers have an opportunity to earn minority students’ trust, and this helps students do better in middle school and beyond.”

Researchers examined students’ perceptions of the fairness of their teachers in middle school and how these perceptions related to whether they were disciplined in school and whether they eventually attended a four-year college. Data were drawn from an eight-year study, conducted two years in a row at the same school, that tracked students in the northeast region of the United States from sixth grade until college entry. In one part of the study, researchers surveyed 277 White and African American students twice yearly; about a fifth of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. In a followup part of the study, they surveyed 206 White and Latino students from Colorado twice yearly; most of the students were from working-class families and these students have not been followed through college entry.

Researchers assessed trust by asking the students to complete surveys that featured questions such as “I am treated fairly by teachers and other adults at my school” and “Students in my racial group are treated fairly by teachers and other adults at [my] middle school.” Students were also asked questions that examined their perceptions of how minority students were treated, such as “If a Black or White student is alone in the hallway during class time, which one would a teacher ask for a hall pass?” Academic achievement was assessed from school records (including grade point averages in core classes); disciplinary incidents were also determined from school records.

In the first study, researchers found that African American students reported more racial disparities than White students in decisions involving school discipline. School records confirmed this: Only minorities were disciplined for defiance and disobedience, not White students. This suggests the possibility of bias: When teachers have to make a judgment call, minority students may be more likely to be disciplined than their White peers. Minority students notice this, Yeager says, and it undermines their trust in school.

Every semester in middle school, African American students became more aware of this bias and lost trust. By seventh grade, this loss of trust made African American students more likely to get in trouble in school and defy school rules, even if before losing trust, they had never been in trouble and had made good grades. African American students who lost trust in school in seventh grade were then less likely to make it to a four-year college six years later.

A similar pattern was found among Latino students in the second study. The more semesters students spent in middle school, the more they came to distrust that their teachers were fair.

But this pattern doesn’t have to be inevitable, the authors point out. The research also featured a pilot randomized experiment, which was built into the study and designed to serve as an antidote to students’ mistrust of staff in school settings. Building on pioneering research by Geoffrey Cohen at Stanford University on “wise” critical feedback, researchers randomly assigned a group of 88 seventh grade social studies students (White and African American) to receive a single display of respect from their teachers (who were White): a hand-written note on a first-draft essay encouraging them to meet a higher standard and implying that the teacher believed in them as they tried to do so. African American students who received these notes had fewer disciplinary incidents over the entire next year and were more likely to be enrolled in college six years later.

“Youth of color enter middle school aware that majority groups could view them stereotypically,” notes Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, who coauthored the study. “But when teachers surprise them with an early experience that conveys that they are not being seen in terms of stereotypes, but rather respected, it creates trust and may set in motion a positive cycle of expectations.”

In this study, neither trust nor receiving the intervention predicted subsequent college entrance for White students as it did for minority students. The authors suggest that for students with group-based advantages, such as majority-group students who are more positively stereotyped and overrepresented, a loss of trust or a poor relationship with a teacher might be only a temporary setback.

The study can inform educational policy and practice. The researchers caution that the one-time note is not an intervention that is ready for wide-scale use. Instead, they say, it highlights that teachers can work more systematically to create a classroom climate that boosts the trust of students who may have to contend with discrimination.

Abstract of the study:

This research tested a social-developmental process model of trust discernment. From sixth to eighth grade, White and African American students were surveyed twice yearly (ages 11–14; Study 1, = 277). African American students were more aware of racial bias in school disciplinary decisions, and as this awareness grew it predicted a loss of trust in school, leading to a large trust gap in seventh grade. Loss of trust by spring of seventh grade predicted African Americans’ subsequent discipline infractions and 4-year college enrollment. Causality was confirmed with a trust-restoring “wise feedback” treatment delivered in spring of seventh grade that improved African Americans’ eighth-grade discipline and college outcomes. Correlational findings were replicated with Latino and White students (ages 11–14; Study 2, = 206).

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Eurydice comparative report on education policy and the role of evidence

There is a new Eurydice report and while the topic is very relevant and interesting, I do think it’s only a start.

What is it all about?

Having a solid evidence base is essential for effective policy-making in the education sector. In practice the mechanisms used to support evidence-based policy-making differ significantly between countries.

This report describes the mechanisms and practices that support evidence-based policy-making in the education sector in Europe. It provides an initial mapping of a complex area. It compares institutions and practices in evidence-based policy-making, as well as the accessibility, and mediation, of evidence. The report also presents more detailed information, with specific examples of the use of evidence in policy formulation for each individual country.

Information was provided by Eurydice National Units and covers the 28 EU Member States as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, and Turkey.

I suggest you do read the full report, but for who wants to know the main conclusion:

There are two main findings arising from this initial mapping of support mechanisms for evidence- based policy-making. First, most countries reported official arrangements with a large variety of organisations which could potentially provide evidence. However, these arrangements ranged from strict rules prescribed in legislation to more loose guidelines about who should provide evidence and who should be consulted during the policy-making process. Second, there were both internal and external knowledge brokers who were given the task of interpreting evidence and mediating between research providers and policy-makers. However, only about a third of the countries reported such arrangements and so they are not in the majority.

If you want to know why I am still hungry for – much – more check this:

The limited scope of this report did not allow for a detailed examination of evidence-based policy- making, but it raised some questions that could be explored in more detail in the future. For example, how does the type of political system affect the way in which support mechanisms for evidence-based policy-making develop? There may be differences depending on the complexity of the system (one level vs multi-level governance). Moreover, a more detailed picture could be formed by examining a limited number of case studies in a more comprehensive way. Also, the question of how evidence influences policy could be examined in more detail.

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Best evidence in brief: What works for bullying prevention?

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and I’m sure many teachers and parents alike want to read this study:

Child Trends has released a new policy brief on preventing bullying and cyberbullying. The report provides information on the current state of bullying research using data from the U.S Department of Education, journal articles, and existing research by Child Trends, and provides recommendations for addressing and preventing bullying behavior.

The report notes that while many bullying prevention programs and strategies are available, evidence of their effectiveness has been mixed, and most have never been rigorously evaluated. Based on the existing research, the report provides the following recommendations:

  • Include cyberbullying as part of a broader approach to bullying prevention. Strategies targeting cyberbullying alone without addressing the broader issue of bullying are unlikely to be effective. Similarly, monitoring students’ social media accounts is likely to be an ineffective use of resources without additional efforts to encourage more civil behavior online and in person.
  • Support the development of evidence-based approaches through dedicated funding for research. Such investments should also examine interventions, such as integrated student supports, for students who are targeted by bullying or witness it.
  • Discourage approaches that lack evidentiary support, criminalize youth, or remove youth from school. Research shows that anti-bullying assemblies, speakers, and campaigns are not effective at preventing bullying, nor are zero-tolerance policies that remove students from school and do not address the underlying causes of bullying behavior.

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What I learned about autonomy from Richard Ryan (cfr Deci & Ryan) yesterday

Yesterday I had the pleasure to attend a public lecture by Richard Ryan at Ghent University. Ryan is famous for his work with Deci on the Self Determination Theory (SDT).

For the people who don’t know this theory, a short reminder:

Yesterday Ryan gave an overview, but when he discussed Autonomy he suddenly said something that I thought was really important for education:

So: SDT is no excuse for e.g. letting children learn without guidance or structure. Ryan made it very clear later on in his talk that autonomy within structured classes was the most effective – he also mentioned scaffolding in this case.

I did notice that most of the time Ryan mentioned links between this motivation-theory and wellbeing. He did mention a link between performance for bankers and the theory (but on the slide you could see this correlation was much smaller than on feelings of wellbeing) and the only time the effect on learning was mentioned, was in what I discussed above.

He did also say this, which is a very nice quote:

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A different tune on personality: personality traits ‘contagious’ among children

Last semester I explained to my students that there are different views on personality: dynamic versus static theories which could be summed up by the simple question “can you ever change your partner?”. This new study by Michigan State University psychology researchers is rather in the dynamic area as it shows that when preschoolers spend time around one another, they tend to take on each others’ personalities. Guess you are already looking at your kids in a whole different way…

From the press release:

The study, published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests personality is shaped by environment and not just genes.

“Our finding, that personality traits are ‘contagious’ among children, flies in the face of common assumptions that personality is ingrained and can’t be changed,” said Jennifer Watling Neal, associate professor of psychology and co-investigator on the study. “This is important because some personality traits can help children succeed in life, while others can hold them back.”

The researchers studied two preschool classes for an entire school year, analyzing personality traits and social networks for one class of 3-year-olds and one class of 4-year-olds.

Children whose play partners were extroverted or hard-working became similar to these peers over time. Children whose play partners were overanxious and easily frustrated, however, did not take on these particular traits. The study is the first to examine these personality traits in young children over time.

Emily Durbin, study co-investigator and associate professor of psychology, said kids are having a bigger effect on each other than people may realize.

“Parents spend a lot of their time trying to teach their child to be patient, to be a good listener, not to be impulsive,” Durbin said. “But this wasn’t their parents or their teachers affecting them – it was their friends. It turns out that 3- and 4-year-olds are being change agents.”

Abstract of the study:

Children enter preschool with temperament traits that may shape or be shaped by their social interactions in the peer setting. We collected classroom observational measures of positive emotionality (PE), negative emotionality (NE), effortful control (EC), and peer social play relationships from 2 complete preschool classrooms (N = 53 children) over the course of an entire school year. Using longitudinal social network analysis, we found evidence that children’s traits shaped the formation of play relationships, and that the traits of children’s playmates shaped the subsequent development of children’s own traits. Children who exhibited high levels of NE were less likely to form social play relationships over time. In addition, children were more likely to form play relationships with peers who were similar to their own levels of PE. Over the course of the school year, children’s level of PE and EC changed such that they became more similar to their playmates in levels of these traits. Finally, we observed moderate to strong rank-order stability of behavioral observations of PE, NE, and EC across the school year. Our results provide evidence for the effects of traits on the formation of play relationships, as well as for the role of these play relationships in shaping trait expression over time.

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The benefit of overlearning

“Don’t overdo it”, it is something I seldom need to say to my students or children, but still: is there something such as ‘overlearning’?

This new study argues that ‘overlearning’ can have a benefit: if you learn past mastery this may help protect what you’ve learned from interference that could undermine what you’ve learned. This claim is based on experiments on a particular learning exercise, so it’s still hard to tell how general this could be as a rule, still lead author Kazuhisa Shibata does think they are up to something that good well be generalized.

From the press release:

Want to learn something and then quickly make that mastery stick? A new Brown University study in which people learned visual perception tasks suggests that you should keep practicing for a little while even after you think you can’t get any better. Such “overlearning” locked in performance gains, according to the Nature Neuroscience paper that describes the effect and its underlying neurophysiology.

Everybody from actors learning lines, to musicians learning new songs, to teachers trying to impart key facts to students has observed that learning has to “sink in” in the brain. Prior studies and also the new one, for example, show that when people learn a new task and then learn a similar one soon afterward, the second instance of learning often interferes with and undermines the mastery achieved on the first one.

The new study shows that overlearning prevents against such interference, cementing learning so well and quickly, in fact, that the opposite kind of interference happens instead. For a time, overlearning the first task prevents effective learning of the second task — as if learning becomes locked down for the sake of preserving master of the first task. The underlying mechanism, the researchers discovered, appears to be a temporary shift in the balance of two neurotransmitters that control neural flexibility, or “plasticity,” in the part of the brain where the learning occurred.

“These results suggest that just a short period of overlearning drastically changes a post-training plastic and unstable [learning state] to a hyperstabilized state that is resilient against, and even disrupts, new learning,” wrote the team led by corresponding author Takeo Watanabe, the Fred M. Seed Professor of Cognitive Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown.

The findings arose from several experiments in which Watanabe, lead author Kazuhisa Shibata and their co-authors asked a total of 183 volunteers to engage in the task of learning to detect which one of the two successively presented images had a patterned orientation and which depicted just unstructured noise. After eight rounds, or “blocks,” of training, which lasted about 20 minutes total, the initial 60 volunteers seemed to master the task.

With that established, the researchers then formed two new groups of volunteers. After a pre-test before any training, a first group practiced the task for eight blocks, waited 30 minutes, and then trained for eight blocks on a new similar task. The next day they were tested on both tasks to assess what they learned. The other group did the same thing, except that they overlearned the first task for 16 blocks of training.

On the next day’s tests, the first group performed quite poorly on the first task compared to the pre-test but showed substantial progress on the second task. Meanwhile the overlearning group showed strong performance on the first task, but no significant improvement on the second. Regular learning subjects were vulnerable to interference by the second task (as expected) but overlearners were not.

In the second experiment, again with new volunteers, the researchers lengthened the break between task training from 30 minutes to 3.5 hours. This time on the next day’s tests, each group — those who overlearned and those who didn’t — showed similar performance patterns in that they both demonstrated significant improvement on both tasks. Given enough time between learning tasks, people successfully learned both and neither kind of interference was evident.

What was going on? The researchers sought answers in a third experiment by using the technology of magnetic resonance spectroscopy to track the balance of two neurotransmitters in volunteers as they learned. Focusing on the “early visual” region in each subject’s brain, the researchers tracked the ratio of glutamate, which promotes plasticity, and GABA, which inhibits it. One group of volunteers trained on a task for eight blocks while the other group trained on it for 16. Meanwhile they all underwent MRS scans before training, 30 minutes after, and 3.5 hours after, and took the usual pre-training and post-training performance tests.

The overlearners and the regular learners revealed a perfectly opposite pattern in how the ratio of their neurotransmitter levels changed. They all started from the same baseline, but for regular learners, the ratio of glutamate to GABA increased markedly 30 minutes after training, before declining almost back to the baseline by 3.5 hours. Meanwhile, the overlearners showed sharp decline in the ratio of glutamate to GABA 30 minutes after training before it rose nearly back to baseline by 3.5 hours.

In other words, at the stage when regular learners were at the peak of plasticity (leaving their first training vulnerable to interference from a second training), overlearners were hunkered down with inhibition (protecting the first training, but closing the door on the second). After 3.5 hours everyone was pretty much back to normal.

In a final experiment, the researchers showed that the amount of decline in the glutamate to GABA ratio in each volunteer was proportional to the degree to which their first training interfered with their second training, suggesting that the link between the neurotransmitter ratio and the effects of overlearning were no coincidence.

Timing is everything

Though the study focused on a visual learning task, Watanabe said he is confident the effect will likely translate to other kinds of learning, such as motor tasks, where phenomena such as interference work similarly.

If further studies confirm that overlearning’s effects indeed carry over to learning in general, then such findings would suggest some advice optimizing the timing of training:

  • To cement training quickly, overlearning should help, but beware it might interfere with similar learning it that follow immediately.
  • Without overlearning, don’t try to learn something similar in rapid succession because there is a risk that the second bout of learning will undermine the first.
  • If you have enough time, you can learn two tasks without interference by leaving a few hours between the two trainings.

“If you want to learn something very important, maybe overlearning is a good way,” Watanabe said. “If you do overlearning, you may be able to increase the chance that what you learn will not be gone.”

Actually, if you look at the last piece of advice, this is something we’ve known for quite a while now (see also Hattie & Yates, 2013).

Abstract of the study:

Overlearning refers to the continued training of a skill after performance improvement has plateaued. Whether overlearning is beneficial is a question in our daily lives that has never been clearly answered. Here we report a new important role: overlearning in humans abruptly changes neurochemical processing, to hyperstabilize and protect trained perceptual learning from subsequent new learning. Usually, learning immediately after training is so unstable that it can be disrupted by subsequent new learning until after passive stabilization occurs hours later. However, overlearning so rapidly and strongly stabilizes the learning state that it not only becomes resilient against, but also disrupts, subsequent new learning. Such hyperstabilization is associated with an abrupt shift from glutamate-dominant excitatory to GABA-dominant inhibitory processing in early visual areas. Hyperstabilization contrasts with passive and slower stabilization, which is associated with a mere reduction of excitatory dominance to baseline levels. Using hyperstabilization may lead to efficient learning paradigms.

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Students, take note: self-compassion may be the key to making it through your first year in college

I just finished correcting the different exams by my students and I’ve noticed already some names have disappeared from my list. Fresh men who found out that becoming a teacher maybe isn’t the right path for them. It’s worse if they dropped out because being stressed out. Well, stressed out university students, take note: self-compassion may be the key to making it through your first year, according to this newstudy from the University of British Columbia.

In brief:

 

  • First year university students were examined at two time points.
  • Change in self-compassion positively related to change in well-being
  • Change in psychological need satisfaction mediated the relationship.

 

From the press release:

Researchers from the faculty of education’s school of kinesiology found students who reported higher levels of self-compassion felt more energetic, alive and optimistic during their first semester of university. When the students’ sense of self-compassion levels rose, so too did their engagement and motivation with life.

“Our study suggests the psychological stress students may experience during the transition between high school and university can be mitigated with self-compassion because it enhances the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which in turn, enriches well-being,” said Katie Gunnell, the study’s lead author and a junior research scientist at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa. The study was part of Gunnell’s PhD work at UBC.

Self-compassion interventions can involve exercises to avoid negative self-judgment or feelings of inadequacy. One example involves writing self-compassionately about a negative experience. Self-compassion emphasizes self-kindness, which means to not be overly critical of oneself; common humanity, which means to recognize failure is universal; and mindfulness, which means being present and calm in the moment.

“Research shows first-year university is stressful,” said co-author and UBC kinesiology professor Peter Crocker. “Students who are used to getting high grades may be shocked to not do as well in university, feel challenged living away from home, and are often missing important social support they had in high school. Self-compassion appears to be an effective strategy or resource to cope with these types of issues.”

Crocker said his research group has previously shown that self-compassion interventions lower self-criticism and negative ruminations in high performance female athletes.

The researchers said their findings highlight the potential for colleges and universities to enhance self-compassion for first-year students through the development of workshops or campaigns.

Abstract of the study:

Introduction

Well-being declines during the first year of university. We examined if change in self-compassion was indirectly related to change in well-being through change in psychological need satisfaction during the first year of university.

Methods

First year university students (N = 189, 77.2% female) completed self-report questionnaires at the beginning of the first semester and approximately five months later. Path analysis and bootstrapping procedures were used to examine residualized change scores.

Results

Change in self-compassion was positively related to (ps < 0.05) change in psychological need satisfaction (β = 0.49) and negatively related to change in negative affect (β = − 0.24). Change in psychological need satisfaction was positively associated (ps < 0.05) with change in vitality (β = 0.58) and change in positive affect (β = 0.52) and negatively associated with change in negative affect (β = − 0.29). Change in self-compassion was indirectly related to change in vitality (b = 0.56, 95% bootstrapped bias corrected confidence interval (BcCI)[0.38, 0.77]), positive affect (b = 0.41, 95%BcCI [0.27, 0.58]), and negative affect (b = − 0.26, 95%BcCI[− 0.41, − 0.13]) through change in psychological need satisfaction.

Conclusions

During the first year of university, change in self-compassion was associated with change in well-being because self-compassion enhanced psychological need satisfaction. Results highlight the potential of enhancing self-compassion during first year university to help mitigate student declines in well-being.

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Is how we use Facebook influenced by our genes?

It was Jan De Mol who sent me this study, but while the title of the press release suggests a big effect of genes on how we use sociale media, I for myself thought it would have been even bigger.

From the press release:

Access to and engagement with online media continues to grow at an unprecedented speed, and it plays an increasingly important role in the development and experience of people across all age groups. Nonetheless, people differ substantially in their use of online media and researchers are interested in finding out why people differ so much. For instance, do genetic differences between people affect their engagement with online media?

Published in PLOS ONE, the study looked at online media use in more than 8,500 16-year-old twins from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). By comparing identical twins (who share 100 per cent of their genes) and non-identical twins (who share 50 per cent of their genes), the researchers were able to estimate the relative contribution of genes and environment on individual differences in engagement with a range of online media, including games for entertainment and education, as well as time spent on chat rooms, instant messaging platforms and Facebook.

Heritability was substantial for time spent on all types of media including entertainment (37 per cent) and educational (34 per cent) media, online gaming (39 per cent) and social networking (24 per cent). Heritability describes the degree to which differences between children — in this case their use of online media — can be attributed to inherited genetic factors, rather than the effects of their environment.

In addition, unique environmental factors accounted for nearly two-thirds of the differences between people in online media use. Unique environmental factors could include varying access to media sources within a family, such as one sibling having a personal mobile phone and the other not, or parents monitoring use of social networks more heavily for one sibling compared to the other.

Together, these findings challenge the belief that people are passively exposed to media and instead support a view that people tailor their online media use based on their own unique genetic predispositions (a concept known as gene-environment correlation).

Ziada Ayorech, first author of the study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said: ‘Our findings contradict popular media effects theories, which typically view the media as an external entity that has some effect — either good or bad — on ‘helpless’ consumers. Finding that DNA differences substantially influence how individuals interact with the media puts the consumer in the driver’s seat, selecting and modifying their media exposure according to their needs.’

Professor Robert Plomin, senior author from the IoPPN at King’s College London, said: ‘The key component of this gene-environment correlation is choice, such that individuals are not simply passive recipients of their environment but instead actively select their experiences and these selections are correlated with their genetic propensities.’

These results raise questions about personalised media and the extent to which social media ‘filter bubbles’ only expose us to information that supports our own point of view, while sheltering us from conflicting arguments.

However, Professor Plomin points out that individual differences would still play an integral role here: ‘Where one person may seek online media that only supports their views, another may choose to also explore conflicting viewpoints.’

Abstract of the study:

Online media use has become an increasingly important behavioral domain over the past decade. However, studies into the etiology of individual differences in media use have focused primarily on pathological use. Here, for the first time, we test the genetic influences on online media use in a UK representative sample of 16 year old twins, who were assessed on time spent on educational (N = 2,585 twin pairs) and entertainment websites (N = 2,614 twin pairs), time spent gaming online (N = 2,635 twin pairs), and Facebook use (N = 4,333 twin pairs). Heritability was substantial for all forms of online media use, ranging from 34% for educational sites to 37% for entertainment sites and 39% for gaming. Furthermore, genetics accounted for 24% of the variance in Facebook use. Our results support an active model of the environment, where young people choose their online engagements in line with their genetic propensities.

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