Category Archives: Research

Maybe an idea: teacher retention bonuses lead to positive results?

This study is not about merit pay as such, but all about keeping teachers in low performing schools… with results it seems at first, but with more issues when you read on. The effect on maths are not that big, and the labeling of teachers as high-performing is always difficult (check the most recent book by Dylan Wiliam).  I do think finding ways to keep good teachers in high-poverty schools is a good way of thinking, but more research is needed.

From the press release:

Offering teachers a retention bonus to stay at low-performing schools may increase test score gains among students in both reading and mathematics, according to a new study.

Walker Swain, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, along with researchers at New York University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, examined the effects of offering a one-time, $5,000 selective retention bonus to teachers at high-poverty schools in Tennessee.

“We initially found compelling evidence that top-rated teachers who received bonuses, especially reading and math teachers, were more likely to come back than near-top-rated teachers who just barely missed being eligible,” said Swain, who teaches in the College of Education’s department of lifelong education, administration and policy. “That sort of sharp eligibility cutoff is great for evaluation, but it also is an important reminder that differentiated pay can be pretty arbitrary.”

In 2012, the Tennessee Department of Education designated $2.1 million from the federal Race to the Top Competition to a one-year pilot program, which offered the highest-rated teachers at “priority schools”–or schools that had the lowest test scores in the state–a retention bonus to decrease turnover rates and elevate student performance.

High-performing teachers who were offered retention bonuses received top scores on Tennessee’s evaluation model, which includes principal observations in class, student perception surveys, reviews of prior evaluations, as well as student test score growth.

Those who received the bonuses were required to stay at their schools the following year. After the first year of the program, Swain and his colleagues evaluated the impact of the pilot program on both teacher turnover rates and later student learning growth in high-poverty schools. Of the 473 teachers who were eligible for the bonus, 321 were retained and paid the $5,000 bonus.

“What we saw on the math side was this increase in teacher retention initially, and then it goes back to normal, when the extra money goes away,” said Swain, who was recently quoted on the study by Education Week. “On the reading side, you see an increase and then it drops off a little bit, but is still better. It’s possible some of the stickiness of the effect could be that staying one more year increased the teacher’s connection to the school.”

Often, schools–particularly high-poverty schools–have a harder time retaining science, technology, engineering and math teachers, since many of them hold advanced degrees in their subject areas, said Swain. Because of this, along with a general shortage of STEM teachers, the program’s $5,000 retention bonus may not have been enough to keep these instructors from leaving.

Despite this finding, priority schools that participated in the bonus program saw a significant improvement in reading test scores among students compared to similar non-participant schools in subsequent years, even after the retention bonus was removed.

While impacts on math scores were only marginally significant, students still scored higher in this subject area in the years following the bonus distribution.

“Part of what we try to do as policy analysts is to think about this program, its core underlying theory and whether it worked,” said Swain. “In this case, we can say the underlying theory worked, but we’re seeing some limits.”

The turnover rates of effective teachers at high-poverty schools are nearly double the rate of similar teachers at low-poverty schools, and if schools are losing a quarter of their best teachers every year, it is very difficult for them to build a stable school environment, said Swain. Low-performing schools that offer retention bonuses to their best teachers tend to improve student learning by lessening reliance on replacement teachers, who are often less effective and less experienced than their peers.

While some critics argue that identifying and replacing low-performing teachers can help improve student achievement, often, at high-poverty schools, these teachers are replaced by instructors who perform well below average. According to Swain, a more promising strategy is to retain the most effective teachers to help enhance the learning environment.

“We try to figure out what are the challenges and what problem this policy highlights,” said Swain. “And here, I think it highlights the fact that turnover of some of the most successful teachers is a big problem in our schools that are struggling the most. And when you address that, one tool that can be used is conditional compensation where you ask teachers to stay and be a leader. Then, you’re ultimately putting the decision in the teacher’s hands.”

Abstract of the study:

Research has established that racially isolated schools with high concentrations of low-income students disproportionately struggle to recruit and retain highly effective teachers, limiting disadvantaged students’ exposure to high-quality instruction and driving institutional and community instability. This study estimates the effect of selective retention bonuses (SRB) for highly effective teachers on low-performing, high poverty schools’ ability to elevate student performance by increasing access to effective instruction. The theory of action behind the bonus program is simple: SRBs result in greater numbers of highly effective teachers at participating schools, who subsequently drive larger student gains than the teachers who would otherwise fill their positions. To examine whether students in high poverty schools benefit from retention of highly effective teachers, we use differences in eligibility for schools to offer bonuses and the discrete timing of the program in a matched sample, difference-in-differences framework. Results indicate that schools who offered SRBs saw greater test score gains in subsequent years, especially on state reading exams.

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The effect of a World Cup on students’ effort and achievement

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this study will make a lot of people smile because they will recognize this:

A study published in the Journal of Public Economics examines how leisure time can impact students’ effort and educational achievement by looking at the overlap of major soccer tournaments (the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship) with GCSE exams in England (GCSEs are high-stakes exams taken in the UK).
Using seven years of subject data on students in England, taken from the National Pupil Database, Robert Metcalfe and colleagues estimated the overall effect of a tournament by comparing within-student variation in performance during the exam period between tournament and non-tournament years.
Overall, they found a negative average effect of the tournament on exam performance, as measured by whether students achieved a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE. In tournament years, the odds of achieving the benchmark of a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects fell by 12%. For students who are likely to be very interested in soccer (defined as likely to be white, male, disadvantaged students), the impact is greater, with the odds of achieving the benchmark reduced by 28%. This result is important, as this group is already the lowest performing, with only 21.3% achieving a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE in non-tournament years.
An earlier study reported in a previous issueof Best Evidence in Brief also found that some students perform less well in their GCSEs in years when there is a major international soccer tournament taking place.

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Again: gender and cultural bias exists against teachers at university level

I would like to say that this study is something new, but sadly enough: it isn’t. We’ve seen this over and over again in other studies: students are more likely to rate male university teachers higher than their female counterparts. Now it has been shown to be the case in Australia.

From the press release:

The study, published today in PLOS ONE, examined almost 525,000 individual student experience surveys from UNSW Sydney students from 2010-2016 across five faculties. It is the first study to examine the interaction between gender and cultural bias.

“These results have enormous flow-on effects for society, beyond education, as over 40% of the Australian population now go to university, and graduates may carry these biases with them into the workforce,” said Associate Professor Yanan Fan, lead author on the study and statistician from UNSW Science.

The study showed that in Business and Science, a male teacher from an English-speaking background was more than twice as likely to get a higher score on a student evaluation than a female teacher from a non-English speaking background. In Engineering, there wasn’t a significant swing against female teachers, except male English-speaking teachers were 1.4 times more likely to get a higher score than teachers in all other categories. For Medicine, local students were more likely to give lower scores to female teachers from non-English speaking backgrounds.

“In the Business and Science faculties in particular, male English-speaking teachers have the highest probability of getting the highest possible grade at six, out of six possible scores,” Associate Professor Fan said.

In Arts and Social Sciences, there was no statistically significant bias against female teachers. The results suggest that where there is a larger proportion of female teachers, such as in Arts and Social Sciences, there is less bias. Bias was observed, however, against male non-English speaking background teachers when evaluated by local students.

“The results show universities must be models of equity and diversity in order to breakdown inequalities that persist in even the most progressive of workplaces,” said Professor Merlin Crossley, UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic.

“We regard student experience surveys as essential, but we have to know how to interpret the results in order understand unconscious bias and how we can bring about change. UNSW is driving a strategy that embraces diversity and we believe these biases will diminish over time. Diversity is a great strength of UNSW and we must keep celebrating it,” said Professor Crossley.

Professor Crossley pointed to unconscious bias training, one of the key initiatives of UNSW’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Board, as a program that tackles often hidden beliefs and attitudes about gender and culture.

In 2017, UNSW appointed Professor Eileen Baldry as UNSW’s first Deputy Vice-Chancellor Inclusion and Diversity. One of the key objectives of the role, and of UNSW’s 2025 Strategy, is achieving gender equity targets at all staff grades.

Associate Professor Fan said there was growing evidence to suggest that all aspects of employment, from hiring to performance evaluation to promotion, are affected by gender and cultural background.

“Reducing bias will have great benefits for society as university students represent a large proportion of future leaders in government and industry,” said Associate Professor Fan.

Dean of Science at UNSW and co-author of the study, Professor Emma Johnston, says encouraging more women at the professorial level, in leadership positions and in membership of key committees will help shrink these biases.

“We need to continue to support women at all levels of academia in STEM across Australia, in order to smash stereotypes that create the partiality that exists within our community.”

Abstract of the study:

Gendered and racial inequalities persist in even the most progressive of workplaces. There is increasing evidence to suggest that all aspects of employment, from hiring to performance evaluation to promotion, are affected by gender and cultural background. In higher education, bias in performance evaluation has been posited as one of the reasons why few women make it to the upper echelons of the academic hierarchy. With unprecedented access to institution-wide student survey data from a large public university in Australia, we investigated the role of conscious or unconscious bias in terms of gender and cultural background. We found potential bias against women and teachers with non-English speaking backgrounds. Our findings suggest that bias may decrease with better representation of minority groups in the university workforce. Our findings have implications for society beyond the academy, as over 40% of the Australian population now go to university, and graduates may carry these biases with them into the workforce.

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Multitasking increases in online courses compared to face-to-face (and yes that is a bad thing)

We can’t multitask. But… when you are doing an online course it’s so tempting to do something else at the same time. So this Kent study won’t come as a surprise to many people, from the conclusion:

Students reported significantly greater multitasking behavior in online versus face-to-face courses (Table 2). Specifically, students were more likely to send text messages, email, visit online social networking sites, watch videos, use the Internet for purposes not related to class, play video games, listen to music, and talk with friends in online courses than in face-to-face courses (|Z| ≥ 1.95, p ≤ .05). Only doodling (i.e., scribbling absentmindedly) was a more common multitasking behavior in face-to-face courses than in online courses (|Z| = 5.54, p ≤ .001). After comparing individual items, the total online and face-to-face multitasking scales were compared (Table 2). Again, results demonstrated that students reported greater multitasking behavior in online versus face-to-face courses (t = 16.541, df = 289, p ≤ .001).

This press release gives more background information:

… (the) phenomenon of multitasking across three or four internet-connected devices simultaneously is increasingly common. Dr. Lepp and his colleagues Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., and Aryn Karpinski, Ph.D., of Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services were curious to know how often this happens during online education, a method of delivering college and even high school courses entirely via an internet-connected computer as opposed to a traditional face-to-face course with a teacher physically present.

Nationwide, millions of students take online courses each year, and the trend is increasing rapidly. Dr. Lepp and his colleagues wondered if students multitask more frequently in online courses compared to face-to-face courses.

“This question is important to ask because an abundance of research demonstrates that multitasking during educational activities significantly reduces learning,” Dr. Lepp said.

Dr. Lepp, Dr. Barkley and Dr. Karpinski, along with the help of Kent State graduate student Shweta Singh, surveyed 296 college students. Each student surveyed had recently completed an online, for-credit college course and a traditional face-to-face college course. The survey asked students how often they participated in common multitasking behaviors during their previously taken online courses as well as their previous face-to-face courses. These behaviors included texting, using social networking apps, emailing, off-task internet surfing, talking, doodling and other distracting behaviors. The survey also measured students’ preference for multitasking and their belief in their ability to self-regulate their behavior.

Results of the study revealed that students’ multitasking behavior is significantly greater in online courses compared to face-to-face courses. Additionally, in online courses, the students who prefer to multitask do indeed multitask more than students with less of a preference for multitasking; however, in face-to-face courses, the students who prefer to multitask do not multitask more frequently than students with less of a preference for multitasking.

“This is likely because in face-to-face courses, a physically present teacher and the presence of conscientious students help to enforce classroom policies and behavioral norms against multitasking,” Dr. Lepp said.

Finally, students who were confident in their ability to self-regulate their behavior multitasked less in face-to-face courses when compared to students who were not so confident in their ability to self-regulate behavior. However, in online courses, even those students who believe they are good at self-regulation could not resist multitasking. Indeed, they multitasked at a similar frequency to other students.

“This suggests that how we teach students to self-regulate for learning applies well to traditional face-to-face courses, but perhaps it does not apply well to online learning,” Dr. Barkley said. “Because multitasking during educational activities has a negative impact on learning, it is important to develop methods for reducing this academically disadvantageous behavior, particularly in the increasingly common online learning environment.”

The researchers say that students can learn to be more singularly focused and to minimize multitasking.

“For example, during online learning and any other educational activity, put all distractions away, including smartphones and tablets,” Dr. Lepp said. “This should become habit. This can even be practiced during leisure. For example, when watching a favorite TV show or sporting event, focus on the show and don’t get distracted by texting friends and posting to social media.”

For students struggling with multitasking in required online courses, Dr. Karpinski suggested that students try taking the course on a computer in a quiet part of the library where there are already norms in place which discourage many distracting behaviors.

“Additionally, as universities increase their online course offerings, even for students already living on or near campus, these same universities might consider computer labs dedicated to online learning that are proctored in an effort to keep students on task,” Dr. Karpinski said.

This study is very relevant, but would have been even better if they had examined the results. To be expected next time, I guess.

Oh btw, did you multitask during the read of this post?

Abstract of the study:

This study compared college students’ multitasking in online courses with their multitasking in face-to-face courses and explored the significance of potential predictors of multitasking in each setting. Students taking both online and face-to-face courses completed surveys assessing multitasking in each setting, self-efficacy for self-regulated learning (SE:SRL), Internet addiction, multitasking tendency, age, and sex. Multitasking was significantly greater in online than face-to-face courses. Internet addiction was positively associated with multitasking in online and face-to-face courses. Multitasking tendency was positively and age was negatively associated with multitasking during online courses only; SE:SRL was negatively associated with multitasking during face-to-face courses only. In conclusion, multitasking was greatest during online courses. Furthermore, there were different sets of predictors for students’ multitasking in online courses compared with face-to-face courses. This implies that multitasking in online and face-to-face courses are different phenomena and therefore may require different pedagogical methods to successfully minimize multitasking behaviors.

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A short video on surveys: Why do respondents’ answers sometimes differ by mode? (e.g. phone vs online)

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A week in replication, some failed, some successful: Big Five, note taking and stereotype threats

The past week I read several replication studies with mixed results:

First, although direct replications (using methods from Mueller and Oppenheimer 2014) yielded longhand-superiority effects, the effects relevant to the encoding function of note-taking were small and did not reach conventional levels of significance. Such outcomes do not support strong recommendations about whether students should take notes longhand or by laptop in class. Second, based on their evidence, Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) hypothesized that the higher word count and verbatim overlap for laptop groups were in part responsible for diminished performance for laptop users. However, when combining results across the direct replications, differences in word count and verbatim overlap were large, whereas differences in performance were small (and not statistically significant). Thus, differences in word count and verbatim overlap do not appear sufficient to produce performance differences between longhand and laptop groups.

The effects of gender stereotype threat on mathematical test performance in the classroom have been extensively studied in several cultural contexts. Theory predicts that stereotype threat lowers girls’ performance on mathematics tests, while leaving boys’ math performance unaffected. We conducted a large-scale stereotype threat experiment in Dutch high schools (N = 2064) to study the generalizability of the effect. In this registered report, we set out to replicate the overall effect among female high school students and to study four core theoretical moderators, namely domain identification, gender identification, math anxiety, and test difficulty. Among the girls, we found neither an overall effect of stereotype threat on math performance, nor any moderated stereotype threat effects. Most variance in math performance was explained by gender, domain identification, and math identification. We discuss several theoretical and statistical explanations for these findings. Our results are limited to the studied population (i.e. Dutch high school students, age 13–14) and the studied domain (mathematics).

In both examples of failed replication it’s not the case that we should abolish the theories as such straightaway. It’s rather that these new studies show that it’s more complicated than thought maybe due to regional and age differences (stereotype threat), maybe due to maybe differences in personal experiences (note taking).

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What we sometimes tend to forget: we are all only human, children included (on distributed practice)

Tim Surma tweeted this study on distributed practice and while what the study describes is as logical as it can be for any parent, still it’s often overlooked: distributed practice is rarely realized in self-regulated mathematical learning. Or to be put in simple words: a lot of students won’t do it by themselves, because, well, they’re human.

The clear written abstract describes the study by Katharina Barzagar Nazari and Mirjam Ebersbach:

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect and use of distributed practice in the context of self-regulated mathematical learning in high school. With distributed practice, a fixed learning duration is spread over several sessions, whereas with massed practice, the same time is spent learning in one session. Distributed practice has been proven to be an effective tool for improving long-term retention of verbal material and simple procedural knowledge in mathematics, at least when the practice schedule is externally guided. In the present study, distributed practice was investigated in a context that required a higher degree of self-regulation. In total, 158 secondary school students were invited to participate. After motivational and cognitive characteristics of the students were assessed, the students were introduced to basic statistics, a topic of their regular curriculum. At the end of the introduction, the students could sign up for the study to further practice this content. Eighty-seven students did so and were randomly assigned either to the distributed or to the massed practice condition. In the distributed practice condition, they received three practice sets on three different days. In the massed practice condition, they received the same three sets, but all on one day. All exercises were worked in the context of self-regulated learning at home. Performance was tested 2 weeks after the last practice set. Only 44 students finished the study, which hampered the analysis of the effect of distributed practice. The characteristics of the students who completed the exercises were analyzed exploratory: The proportion of students who finished all exercises was significantly higher in the massed than in the distributed practice condition. Within the distributed practice condition, a significantly larger proportion of female students completed the exercises compared to male students. Additionally, among these female students, a larger proportion showed lower concentration difficulty. No such differential effects were revealed in the massed practice condition. Our results suggest that the use of distributed practice in the context of self-regulated learning might depend on learner characteristics. Accordingly, distributed practice might obtain more reliable effects in more externally guided learning contexts.

So the study seems to be a failure, but the fact that many students dropped out of the experiment is an interesting result in itself:

One of the main purposes of the present study was to investigate the effect of distributed practice on the mathematical performance of high school students using curriculum-relevant material. However, due to a severe dropout rate over the course of the study as a consequence of the study relying on self-regulated-learning, the effect of practice condition on final test performance has a low validity.

But there is more:

First of all, the proportion of students who finished the study was significantly higher in the massed practice condition than in the distributed practice condition. Furthermore, within the distributed practice condition, additional differential effects were found: The proportion of students who finished their exercises was significantly higher among female students than among male students. In addition, within female students who practiced in a distributed manner, the proportion of students who finished the study was significantly higher for girls with low concentration difficulty than for girls with high concentration difficulty. None of these differential effects were found for the massed practice condition. That is, not only did the students complete their exercises more often in the massed practice condition, but for the distributed practicing students, personal characteristics had an additional influence on the completion of the exercises. Taken together, these results imply that distributed practice in self-regulated learning, contrary to massed practice, favors specific students in terms of their willingness to realize this strategy, while others are at a disadvantage.

Therefore this conclusion, which probably wasn’t the thing the researchers were looking for:

The main finding here was that – in contrast to massed practice – distributed practice in semi-self-regulated learning (as the schedule was externally given and not chosen by the students themselves) seems to favor students with particular characteristics: in the current study, female students with lower concentration difficulty. Because self-regulated learning plays an important role especially in high school and at university, these differential effects concerning the application of distributed practice may be problematic if they result in performance improvements of a particular group of students while disfavoring others. Teachers may prefer strategies that improve the performance of all students equally. Therefore, it is vital to know whether and which learners are capable of successfully implementing distributed practice into their own learning schedule.

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This post may cause stress for many parents, do be warned

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you but a new study shows that the time parents spend with children can be key to academic success. But wait… it can be more complicated than that because they found a quite distinct way to measure this: the researchers analyzed data on children in Israel who lost a parent through death or divorce and looked at the remaining parent (quotes from the press release):

They found that when it came to one measure of a child’s academic success, the educational attainment of the surviving or custodial parent had more impact than the educational level of the parent who died or left the home.

And the longer the absence of a parent, the less impact his or her education had on the child’s success and the greater the impact of the remaining parent.

The study is quite large, to say the least, as it involved more than 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent before age 18, more than 77,000 whose parents divorced and more than 600,000 who did not experience parental death or divorce. But what do we learn from this?

“We found that if a mother dies, her education becomes less important for whether her child passes the test, while at the same time the father’s education becomes more important. If a father dies, the reverse happens,” he (Gould, one of the main authors) said.

“These relationships are stronger when the parent dies when the child is younger.”

In other words, Gould said, parenting matters.

“Student success is not coming just from smart parents having smart kids,” he said.

Study results rejected the argument that the parents’ income is really what helps the children of the highly educated succeed academically.

And now it gets really interesting:

If that were so, then losing a father should hurt children academically more than losing a mother because fathers tend to earn more.

“That’s not what we found. The loss of a mother – who tends to spend more time than the father with her children – had a bigger effect than loss of a father in our study,” Weinberg said.

But what about parents who remarry after losing a spouse? The study found that the negative effect on academic success of losing a mother can at least be partially minimized if the child gains a stepmother. If the father does not remarry, the effect of the loss is more acute: No one can compensate for the loss of the mother except for the father.

The study didn’t find any differences in academic success for children whose mothers remarried after their father died, versus those who did not. That may be because mothers’ education levels generally had more impact on their children’s success than that of fathers because of the more time moms spend with their kids.

Results also showed that mothers’ education was more closely linked to children’s academic success in larger families. The researchers believe that was because women with more children spent more time with their kids and less time working outside the home, according to findings.

Overall, the effects of losing a parent were stronger on girls than on boys, the study showed.

Similar results were also found with children whose parents had divorced. The educational level of the mother – whom the child typically lived with – had a larger effect on academic success than did the education of the other parent, Weinberg said.

“We found similar results in those children who experienced parental death and parental divorce. That provides strong evidence that our results are more general than just for children who suffered a parental death,” Weinberg said.

“Other studies show that highly educated parents tend to spend more time with their children. Our results may suggest one reason why they do: It has a strong impact on academic success.”

And… the importance of mothers.

Abstract of the study by Gould et al.:

This paper examines the transmission of human capital from parents to children using variation in parental influence due to parental death, divorce, and the increasing specialization of parental roles in larger families. All three sources of variation yield strikingly similar patterns which show that the strong parent-child correlation in human capital is largely causal. In each case, the parent-child correlation in education is stronger with the parent that spends more time with the child, and weaker with the parent that spends relatively less time parenting. These findings help us understand why educated parents spend more time with their children.

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She’s got the looks, but does she have the brains? New study on how sexy looks influence our thinking about capabilities

Looks can deceive, but it’s important to know that this deception is often in the head of the perceiver. This new, quite depressing study shows that female students who dress sexy at their graduation are perceived as being less competent and are believed to have performed worse in their degree than their peers who dress more professionally. From the conclusion:

Overall, female students chose their graduation outfit in order to appear beautiful and to express their personality and less so to appear competent. Hence, appearing competent seemed not to be their main concern. At the same time, outfit had a reliable impact on observers who attributed less effort and poorer outcomes (thesis points and higher final mark) to the students dressed in a sexy fashion (Study 1 and Study 3). Sexy outfits were even associated with fewer thesis points actually obtained by students in real life (Study 2). This result suggests that graduation committees may have been influenced by the students’ attire when evaluating their theses.

From the press release:

Females who dress ‘sexily’ at their graduation are perceived as being less competent and are believed to have performed worse in their degree than their peers who dress more professionally, new research from the University of Surrey reports.

During this unique study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers investigated perceptions of female clothing at university graduations in Italy. Participants were presented with 24 photographs of females who had recently graduated: 12 of these photographs involved ‘sexy’ outfits consisting of short dresses or skirts, low necklines and high heels, and 12 photographs of females in professional outfit of a jacket and trousers. Participants were then asked to estimate the final mark of the females in the pictures and, to rate their sexiness, competence and outfit appropriateness.

Female graduates who dressed more professionally were perceived by participants as having a higher final mark and thesis points and to be more competent than their peers who dressed in short dresses and skirts. Participants also deemed professional attire more appropriate for graduation.

Examining perceptions further, researchers exposed an additional group of 573 participants, namely female students, university professors and members of the general population, to photographs of 37 female students who were asked to wear two outfits, one professional and one ‘sexy.’ Participants were asked to rate the students’ performance, future career success and whether they would have worn the outfits they were presented with. Similar to previous results, participants viewed students who dressed more professionally to be more competent and as having achieving a higher final mark.

Interestingly, female student peers perceived the professionally dressed students as more likely to find a job and to have a successful career than when the same students were dressed in a ‘sexy’ outfit. Conversely, adult participants judged the students wearing a ‘sexy’ outfit as having an advantage, and having higher chances of success in the job market. Also when asked which outfit they would have chosen, professional or ‘sexy’, male participants were more likely than female participants to claim that they would have chosen to wear the ‘sexy’ outfit if they were the student.

Dr Fabio Fasoli, Lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “The intelligence and competence of females is unfairly linked to how they present themselves. A top student who decides to wear a short dress to her graduation is perceived to be less capable than another who chooses to wear trousers and a jacket.

“It is often thought that how we dress is a reflection of our personality but this may not be the case for women, given that they are constantly scrutinised for their appearance and that unmerited conclusions are drawn about them, including their intelligence and professional capability.”

Abstract of the study:

This research investigates how female students choose their graduation outfit and how clothing affects observers’ judgments. In Study 1, we manipulated the students’ graduation outfit so as to look professional or sexy. Female peers, adults, and professors formed a first impression about the students, their thesis work and guessed their graduation scores (thesis points and final mark). All participant groups judged the professionally dressed students as more competent, as having put more effort in their thesis, and as having obtained better scores than when the same students dressed sexy. In Studies 2 and 3 we replicated previous findings by using photos portraying real students in their actual graduation outfits. We found that sexy clothing, considered inappropriate for the occasion, affected estimated and actual graduation scores negatively and that this effect was mediated by perceived incompetence. Results are discussed with respect to women’s evaluation on the basis of their appearance.

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Interesting: babies who hear two languages at home develop advantages in attention

There has been a lot of debate about the benefits of being raised bilingual, this new study shows a possible positive effect on attention as this new study shows that infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language.

From the press release:

The advantages of growing up in a bilingual home can start as early as six months of age, according to new research led by York University’s Faculty of Health. In the study, infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language. This means that exposure to bilingual environments should be considered a significant factor in the early development of attention in infancy, the researchers say, and could set the stage for lifelong cognitive benefits.

The research was conducted by Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Walter Gordon Research Chair of Lifespan Cognitive Development at York University and Scott Adler, associate professor in York’s Department of Psychology and the Centre for Vision Research, along with lead author Kyle J. Comishen, a former Master’s student in their lab. It will be published January 30, 2019 in Developmental Science.

The researchers conducted two separate studies in which infants’ eye movements were measured to assess attention and learning. Half of the infants who were studied were being raised in monolingual environments while others were being raised in environments in which they heard two languages spoken approximately half of the time each. The infants were shown images as they lay in a crib equipped with a camera and screen, and their eye movements were tracked and recorded as they watched pictures appear above them, in different areas of the screen. The tracking was conducted 60 times for each infant.

“By studying infants – a population that does not yet speak any language – we discovered that the real difference between monolingual and bilingual individuals later in life is not in the language itself, but rather, in the attention system used to focus on language,” says Bialystok, co-senior author of the study. “This study tells us that from the very earliest stage of development, the networks that are the basis for developing attention are forming differently in infants who are being raised in a bilingual environment. Why is that important? It’s because attention is the basis for all cognition.”

In the first study, the infants saw one of two images in the centre of the screen followed by another image appearing on either the left or right side of the screen. The babies learned to expect that if, for example, a pink and white image appears in the centre of the screen, it would be followed by an attractive target image on the left; If a blue and yellow image appeared in the centre, then the target would appear on the right. All the infants could learn these rules.

In the second study, which began in the same way, researchers switched the rule halfway through the experiment. When they tracked the babies’ eye movements, they found that infants who were exposed to a bilingual environment were better at learning the new rule and at anticipating where the target image would appear. This is difficult because they needed to learn a new association and replace a successful response with a new contrasting one.

“Infants only know which way to look if they can discriminate between the two pictures that appear in the centre,” said Adler, co-senior author of the study. “They will eventually anticipate the picture appearing on the right, for example, by making an eye movement even before that picture appears on the right. What we found was that the infants who were raised in bilingual environments were able to do this better after the rule is switched than those raised in a monolingual environment.”

Anything that comes through the brain’s processing system interacts with this attentional mechanism, says Adler. Therefore, language as well as visual information can influence the development of the attentional system.

Researchers say the experience of attending to a complex environment in which infants simultaneously process and contrast two languages may account for why infants raised in bilingual environments have greater attentional control than those raised in monolingual environments.

In previous research, bilingual children and adults outperformed monolinguals on some cognitive tasks that require them to switch responses or deal with conflict. The reason for those differences were thought to follow from the ongoing need for bilinguals to select which language to speak. This new study pushes back the explanation to a time before individuals are actively using languages and switching between them.

“What is so ground-breaking about these results, is that they look at infants who are not bilingual yet and who are only hearing the bilingual environment. This is what’s having the impact on cognitive performance,” says Adler.

Abstract of the study:

Bilingualism has been observed to influence cognitive processing across the lifespan but whether bilingual environments have an effect on selective attention and attention strategies in infancy remains an unresolved question. In Study 1, infants exposed to monolingual or bilingual environments participated in an eye‐tracking cueing task in which they saw centrally presented stimuli followed by a target appearing on either the left or right side of the screen. Halfway through the trials, the central stimuli reliably predicted targets’ locations. In Study 2, the first half of the trials consisted of centrally presented cues that predicted targets’ locations; in the second half, the cue–target location relation switched. All infants performed similarly in Study 1, but in Study 2 infants raised in bilingual, but not monolingual, environments were able to successfully update their expectations by making more correct anticipatory eye movements to the target and expressing faster reactive eye latencies toward the target in the post‐switch condition. The experience of attending to a complex environment in which infants simultaneously process and contrast two languages may account for why infants raised in bilingual environments have greater attentional control than those raised in monolingual environments.

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