1. Study looks at how office workers perceive sitting down all week

    December 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the James Cook University press release:

    A James Cook University study has found nearly three quarters of office workers believe there is a negative relationship between sitting down all day at work and their health — and that bosses are crucial to helping solve the problem.

    PhD candidate Teneale McGuckin is a lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at JCU. She surveyed 140 office workers on what they thought was the relationship between sitting time and health.

    “One hundred people said that more sitting time worsened their health. Back complaints were the most common worry, then neck aches and loss of muscle tone. People also talked about weight gain and that sitting down all day reduced their motivation.”

    Ms McGuckin said that science supported the view that sitting is bad for you.

    “Increased sitting time has been associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced life expectancy. Links to weight gain, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and breathing difficulties, have also been identified.”

    The office workers were also asked what they thought could be done about the problem and suggested a variety of behaviour change strategies.

    These included alarms or alerts to prompt standing, or computer software which freezes the computer for a selected period of time, standing in meetings or in the lunchroom, and standing desks.

    “But whatever the strategy used, the focus groups said it needed to include education on the benefits and it needed buy-in from management. People said the breaks have to be seen as a normal activity and there shouldn’t be criticism if they are away from their desks,” said Ms McGuckin.

    She said that it was plain a ‘one size fits all’ approach would be unlikely to succeed due to personal preferences.

    “Interventions have to include a variety of strategies that are individually tailored and in which the people involved have the opportunity for input. If people feel they have control of the situation in this way, the strategy is more likely to work.”

     


  2. Study finds high-pressure expectations may lead to unethical behavior

    November 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Georgia press release:

    It can happen in the branch office or the boardroom. Volkswagen did it to pass emissions tests. Wells-Fargo did it to squeeze more profits from their customers. Some school districts have it done it to boost their standardized test scores. Workplace cheating is a real and troublesome phenomenon, and new research from the University of Georgia explains how it starts — and how employers can help prevent it.

    “It’s the desire for self-protection that primarily causes employees to cheat,” said Marie Mitchell, an associate professor of management in UGA’s Terry College of Business. “Employees want to look valuable and productive, especially if they think their job is at risk.”

    In a recently published paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Mitchell and her co-authors examined performance pressure in the workplace and the behaviors that result from it. They found when employees feel their job depends on meeting high benchmarks, some fudge results in order to stay employed.

    For example, when Wells Fargo employees were told to meet new goals that included opening sky-high numbers of new accounts, thousands began to open fraudulent accounts in order to meet their quotas. Wells Fargo was fined $185 million in 2016 and publicly scorned as a result. Similar scenarios can play out across all industries, Mitchell said.

    “We’ve seen it in finance, we’ve seen it with educators and test scores, we’ve seen it in sports, it’s everywhere,” she said. “Performance pressure elicits cheating when employees feel threatened. Even though there is the potential of getting a good payoff if they heighten their performance, there’s also significant awareness that if they don’t, their job is going to be at risk.”

    This is especially true when employees feel they cannot meet expectations any other way. That perception leads to anger, which in turn leads to unethical behavior, Mitchell said. This crucible of pressure and anger causes employees to focus on doing what is beneficial to them — even if it harms others.

    “Angry and self-serving employees turn to cheating to meet performance demands. It’s understandable,” Mitchell said. “There’s a cycle in which nothing is ever good enough today. Even if you set records last month, you may get told to break them again this month. People get angry about that, and their self-protective reflex is elicited almost subconsciously.”

    An expert on “dark side” behaviors and a former human resources manager, Mitchell has been interested in cheating phenomena since her graduate school days.

    “There were individuals in law school who would race to get to law journals before anyone else and tear out certain pages so that other students couldn’t be as prepared in class,” she said. “So I know cheating happens. I’ve seen it. But the research on this has taken place in behavioral labs, and that doesn’t always translate well to the workplace. I wanted to find out a bit more about what actually happens at work.”

    To do so, her research team devised three studies. The first created a measure of workplace cheating behavior through a nationwide survey that asked participants about cheating behavior at work — what it is and if they’d seen it. The second and third studies were time-separated field surveys in which employees were asked about their performance pressure at one point in time, then were asked about their feelings and perceptions of the pressure and their cheating behaviors about a month later.

    The findings led to a breakthrough. The key, Mitchell said, is for managers to understand the potential threat of performance pressure to employees. If they coach employees on how to view pressure as non-threatening and focus on how to enhance performance ethically, cheating may be prevented.

    “It could be that if you pair performance pressure with ethical standards and give employees the right kind of assurance within the workplace, it can actually motivate great performance,” she said. “There have been many scholars who have argued that you need to stretch your employees because it motivates them, makes them step outside of their normal boxes and be more creative. Our research says that it could, but it also might cause them to act unethically.”

    The paper, “Cheating Under Pressure: A Self-Protection Model of Workplace Cheating Behavior,” was co-authored by Michael D. Baer of Arizona State University, Maureen L. Ambrose and Robert Folger of the University of Central Florida and Noel F. Palmer of the University of Nebraska-Kearney.


  3. Study suggests people will desire something even more if you increase their focus on it

    November 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Case Western Reserve University press release:

    The relationship between desire and attention was long thought to only work in one direction: When a person desires something, they focus their attention on it.

    Now, new research reveals this relationship works the other way, too: increasing a person’s focus on a desirable object makes them want the object even more — a finding with important implications for marketers and clinicians seeking to influence behavior.

    The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, is the first to demonstrate a two-way relationship.

    “People will block out distraction and narrow their attention on something they want,” said Anne Kotynski, author of the study and a PhD student in psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University. “Now we know this works in the opposite direction, too.”

    In marketing, advertisements with a hyper focus on a product’s desirable aspect — say zooming in on the texture of icing and frosting — might help sell a certain brand of cake.

    Findings suggest the ad could be targeted to people who have shown an interest in a similar product, such as running the cake commercial during a baking show.

    Clinicians could potentially help their patients develop a stronger focus on — and pursuit of — healthy activities that they may desire but otherwise resist, such as exercising or eating a balanced diet, Kotynski said.

    The study’s findings also add a wrinkle to knowledge of focus and emotion.

    According to a spate of previous research, positive emotions — such as happiness and joy — widen a person’s attention span, while negative emotions — such as disgust and fear — do the opposite: narrowing a person’s focus.

    “We conceptualize fear as drastically different from desire,” Kotynski said. “But our findings contribute to growing evidence that these different emotions have something key in common: They both narrow our focus in similar ways.”

    The findings also fit the notion that both of these emotions — fear (negative) and desire (positive) — are associated with evolutionarily pursuits that narrowed our ancestors’ attentions.

    For example, fear of predators motivated attention focused on an escape route, while an urge to mate motivated focus on a sexual partner.

    “If a person has a strong desire, research says this positive emotion would make them have a wide attention span,” Kotynski said. “Our research shows we developed a more beneficial behavior around desire: focusing our mental energy on the important object, much like fear would.”

    The study

    Study participants were shown images of desserts mixed in with mundane items. They were instructed to pull a joystick toward them if the image was tilted one direction and push the stick away if it was tilted the opposite direction. Researchers recorded the reaction time of each.

    Participants who responded fastest to pull the images of desserts were those whose attention had been narrowed. Responses were much slower to the mundane, and for participants whose attention was broad — suggesting narrowed attention increases desire for desserts but not for everyday objects.

    The study used dessert pictures to measure reaction time because such images have been shown to increase desire across individuals, most likely due to a motivation to seek high fat, high calorie foods that is rooted in evolution.


  4. Study suggests public commitment to weight loss goals can help with achieving them

    October 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American University press release:

    About those before and after selfies and public declarations of hitting the gym? New research co-authored by Dr. Sonya A. Grier, professor of marketing in the American University Kogod School of Business, confirms these announcements and progress updates are useful for the achievement of weight and fitness goals. “Weight Loss Through Virtual Support Communities: A Role for Identity-based Motivation in Public Commitment,” published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing, examines the role of virtual communities and public commitment to setting and weight loss goals.

    The study tracks two communities of weight loss groups, surgical and non-surgical over a four-year period. They found that participation and sharing of successes and setbacks in virtual support communities (VSC) is a key part of achieving goals through the public commitment to lose weight.

    “In our investigation of VSCs, we find social identity motivates public commitment in support of goal attainment,” the researchers write.

    Grier says, “The sharing of intimate information and photos about weight loss goals in virtual space is a key factor in motivating behaviors that fulfill that new thinner identity and thus helps people reach their goals.”

    Bloggers like Audrey* shared old photos in search of a “pretty and slim” version of herself.

    “Here is my picture of 28 years ago when I was young, pretty and slim,” Audrey* wrote in a post. “Makes me wanna cry… I can’t get any younger, but I sure can get closer to that weight! Stop crying, start losing weight, girl!”

    Others, like Darlene* shared milestones.

    “I have good news to report. My hard work of eating right and working out has paid off. I am now in ONDERLAND!!!! I weighed in this morning at 196lbs! YES, I did it. I reached my first goal to be under 200lbs and before my cruise on October 16th. I can’t believe I did it! I’m so proud of myself.”

    Ultimately, Grier says, VSCs allow for relative anonymity, accessibility, availability and flexibility in how users represent themselves on their journeys. The process of building community, even in relative anonymity helps with keeping participants motivated and accountable.

    “Not everyone can get the support they need from the people they interact with in person on a daily basis. It is helpful that technology can support community building and goal achievement in virtual spaces.”

    *Names have been changed.


  5. Brain region that motivates behavior change discovered

    October 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    Have you ever been stuck in a rut, going through the same motions day in and day out? How do you motivate to change your behavior?

    Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Columbia University and Duke University now better understand how this happens, and it has to do with a region in the brain called the posterior cingulate cortex. They learned that neurons in this central location ramp up firing rates, peaking just before a divergent behavior occurs. They published their findings in the journal Neuron.

    “The circuits in our brain that allow us to focus on a particular task, especially a task that leads to reward, are well known,” said Michael Platt, the James S. Riepe University Professor in Penn’s psychology, neuroscience and marketing departments. “These evolved very early in the history of life on this planet.”

    What’s less established is which trigger in the brain causes people to break from a routine, especially when doing so poses potential risks.

    Two experiments the research team conducted — one called the patch-leaving task, the other dubbed the traveling salesman — provided some important insights.

    In the first, Platt and colleagues looked at the foraging behaviors of rhesus macaques, a non-human primate species the researchers have studied both in the lab and in the wild. The animals had the choice between harvesting a juice reward that depleted over time but was guaranteed and immediate or moving to a new “patch,” which would require more time and energy but offered a potentially larger reward.

    “Imagine you’re picking berries in a tree,” he said. “At first it’s easy, but after a while you have to climb farther and farther out on weaker branches to get the berries, most of which probably aren’t ripe. At some point it makes sense to take the time and energy to go to the next tree.”

    To understand the second experiment, think about an effective traveling salesman. The merchant moves from door to door, interacting with people in the hopes of making a deal. Not everyone purchases a product, though there is an ideal pattern for success. Once the salesman understands this, he follows that pattern until it stops working and a behavior change is necessary for continued prosperity.

    Monkeys in the traveling-salesman experiment had the option to visit six different locations, two of which contained rewards, one large and one small. The reward spots were randomized, and they changed each time the experiment ran.

    “The optimal solution is to develop a routine where you visit all of them in a circle. That’s the best you can do; you go from nearest neighbor to next neighbor. That’s what monkeys do in the wild. That’s what bumblebees do in the wild,” Platt said. “Occasionally, these animals break off to explore for something that might be better, kind of like what people do in a grocery store. Suddenly monkeys here would break off and go out of order. We didn’t know why.”

    Simultaneous to watching the macaques’ behavior in both experiments, Platt and his colleagues recorded neuron behavior in the posterior cingulate cortex. Neural activity there built up until it peaked, at which point the animals changed course, revealing correlational evidence that this spike in brain function leads to the divergent thinking and action rather than happens because of it.

    “If you increased activity in the area exogenously, if I put an electrode in there and stimulated, then you would break off from the routine, you would become more exploratory,” Platt said. “Similarly, if you could suppress activity, you’d see the opposite. You’d become hyper-focused on one option, and you may never make a change.”

    These findings have potential business applications in terms of innovation and exploration. Techniques that directly activate the posterior cingulate cortex like brain stimulation or game play that promotes distraction, particularly within situations that don’t allow a routine to form, can lead to more creativity.

    People who have more activity there have more mind-wandering, and they tend to be more creative,” according to Platt. “It suggests that capacity to be more creative evolved for a very specific purpose, which is to allow you to forage efficiently in a landscape that’s always changing.”


  6. To kickstart creativity, offer money, not plaudits, study finds

    October 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    How should employers reward creative types for turning in fresh, inventive work: with a plaque or a party recognizing their achievement, or with cold, hard cash? According to new research co-written by a University of Illinois expert in product development and marketing, it’s all about the money, honey.

    In contexts where a premium is placed on being original, social recognition as a reward for an especially imaginative piece of work doesn’t necessarily enhance creativity, says published research co-written by Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration at Illinois.

    “The general consensus in the research literature on creativity is that money hurts creativity,” Mehta said. “But most of that prior research was conducted with children as the test subjects, and the participants were not specifically told that the reward was for being creative. So what is it about the contingency of rewards that impacts creativity, and would adults respond to all types of creativity-contingent rewards the same way?”

    Across five experiments, Mehta and his co-authors examined the role of creativity-contingent monetary rewards versus creativity-contingent social-recognition rewards on creative performance, providing new insights into the underlying motivational processes through which these rewards affect creativity.

    The experiments demonstrated that, within the context of creativity contingency, monetary rewards induce “a performance focus,” while social-recognition rewards induce “a normative focus,” according to the paper. The researchers found that the former enhances one’s motivation to be original, thereby leading to more inventiveness in a creative task, while the latter hurts it.

    “We found that if you tell people to be creative and then give them monetary rewards, they will be more creative,” Mehta said. “But wouldn’t the same be true of all rewards? If you tell people to be creative and then give them a social-recognition reward instead of money, then they’ll be just as creative as those you reward with money, right? We found no empirical evidence for that.”

    Mehta said social recognition is “all about people knowing about you and your work, and thereby influencing one to act more in accordance with social norms,” whereas creativity means “coming up with something different, something novel, something that is not the norm.”

    “As adults, we don’t want to come up with something that’s too radical, too out-there, especially when we know that our peers will be judging us,” he said. “Most of our daily activities as working adults are about adhering to social norms. We don’t want to stand out too much.”

    But when a monetary reward is dangled, people amp up their performance and consciously try to “blow the doors off the competition” in terms of creativity, Mehta said.

    “When you ask someone to be creative, you’re asking them to be transgressive, to think beyond social norms and thought processes that are not automatic,” he said. “That’s why a social-recognition reward kills creativity, because it makes creators more risk-averse. It appeals to conformity, to not standing out, which drives you to the middle, not the edge. It compels you to fall in line with social norms, and there’s less motivation to be creative.

    “People who value creativity value the bizarre, the stuff that’s out there. Therefore, they’re less likely to care about the approval of others, or a sense of belonging with their peers.”

    The research has practical applications for how people generate creative ideas, and how to motivate creative-class employees.

    “There’s a trend among companies for crowdsourcing ideas or user-generated content,” Mehta said. “Virtually all social media is user- or consumer-driven. This ought to point them in the right direction: Money talks, but social recognition doesn’t.”

    The research also is applicable to people who work at ad agencies or in creative fields.

    “A little caveat, though: People in those fields are expected to be creative, so social recognition also would work for them,” Mehta said. “But more money certainly wouldn’t hurt them, either. In that case, both rewards would lead to more creativity.”

    The paper will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.


  7. Study suggests motivation may be less limited than we think

    September 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Toronto press release:

    After a long day of work and carefully watching what you eat, you might expect your self-control to slip a little by kicking back and cracking open a bag of potato chips.

    But according to new U of T Scarborough research, self-control may be less limited than we often believe. In fact, there may be no noticeable dip in our motivation and ability to do something as long as we switch up tasks throughout the day.

    “While people get tired doing one specific task over a period of time, we found no evidence that they had less motivation or ability to complete tasks throughout the day,” says Dan Randles, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Michael Inzlicht’s lab at U of T Scarborough.

    Self-control is the ability to focus on or exert effort on a task that isn’t immediately rewarding. “It’s doing something not because you enjoy it, but because it’s connected to a larger goal and you want to see it through,” explains Randles.

    The prevailing theory in psychology about self-control is that it can get exhausted internally the more we use it. Some studies have suggested that depleted glucose reserves in the brain could be responsible. But as Randles notes, most studies on self-control depletion have been done in the lab, and some, including studies on glucose, have been difficult to replicate and remain controversial.

    “This doesn’t mean all studies on self-control are wrong, but at least for that one, attempts to replicate it have found no evidence for the effect,” he says.

    Randles and Inzlicht worked with Iain Harlow, Vice President of Science at the adaptive learning company Cerego. Together, they found that people experience worsened ability while doing a single difficult memory task, and that their performance begins to decline around the 30-minute mark with a notable drop in performance around 50 minutes.

    These findings echo similar studies in the past, but what’s unique is that they found no evidence that ability to complete the task decreased throughout the day, and in fact found that motivation to complete it actually increased.

    “This finding is especially important for intellectually demanding tasks like learning,” says Harlow. “It fits with research showing that you remember more of what you learn when you review it frequently but in short bursts.”

    “Our results are consistent with theories showing that people lose motivation within a specific task, but at odds with theories that argue self-control is general resource that can be exhausted,” adds Randles.

    He says there may be a few reasons why we have stable self-control throughout the day but that it can limited within a single task. One important reason could be that we have several longer-term goals to achieve and that we’re sensitive to putting in enough effort to complete them all. So too much effort in one task may rob other important goals, notes Randles.

    While there are more than 200 studies that show doing a task requiring impulse control and mental effort can lead to a drop-in self-control when switching to an unrelated task, it’s rarely really been tested in a natural setting. This is what’s unique about this study — it’s one of the first to observe self-control in a natural setting over a full 24-hour period.

    The researchers gathered data from more than 16,000 students who completed voluntary learning and review exercises over several months using Cerego’s adaptive learning platform.

    “The data from Cerego offered a unique opportunity because it showed us exactly when people were willing to engage in a difficult mental activity and for how long,” says Randles.

    “The fact participants got worse at a single task speaks to how effortful they found it, and despite the difficulty, we found no evidence whatsoever that their ability or motivation decreased up until the point they got tired late at night.”


  8. People who view their relationships as supportive may confidently strive for growth

    September 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    If you’re one of those lucky individuals with high motivation and who actively pursues personal growth goals, thank your family and friends who support you.

    People who view their relationships as supportive may confidently strive for growth, new University of Michigan research shows.

    U-M researchers used data from samples from the United States and Japan to determine if personal growth is an outcome of an individual’s traits or the positive relationships they have with others.

    In Study 1, about 200 participants were randomly assigned to one of three relationship conditions: supportive, nonsupportive and neutral. In the two main conditions, some had to consider a person in their life with whom they felt comfortable (or not) and did not worry (did worry) about being abandoned by them. The neutral group had to consider an acquaintance for whom they did not have strong feelings.

    Participants read a hypothetical scenario in which they had to choose between a higher-paying job with high familiarity (Company A) or a lower-paying job that required learning that would help their long-term career development (Company B).

    Among those in the supportive relationship condition, 65 percent selected Company B, whereas 40 percent of those in the nonsupportive condition chose the same company. Fifty percent of the neutral group picked Company B.

    Participants who thought about a supportive person were more willing to choose a job that promoted personal growth, even at lower pay, in part because they had more self-confidence, the study indicated.

    Studies 2 and 3 analyzed people’s perceptions of the support received from family and friends to determine personal growth tendencies in two cultures.

    Using data from the Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, more than 3,800 participants in Study 2 rated the support received from family and friends. The questions included: “How much does your family (do your friends) really care about you?” and “How much can you open up to them if you need to talk about your worries?” They also rated their willingness to develop their potential and grow as a person, as well as self-confidence.

    People who reported their relationships to be supportive had a greater willingness to grow personally and felt more self-confident, the study showed. The results were similar in the data from the Survey of Midlife Development in Japan, which sampled about 1,000 people.

    The more supportive people judged their relationships to be, the higher their personal growth tendencies, even in a culture that puts more emphasis on the collective rather than the individual,” said David Lee, the study’s lead author who obtained his doctorate in psychology at U-M.

    Overall, the findings support the “I-through-We” perspective, which means the social tendency to connect with others, and the individual tendency to strive and grow as individuals, are not mutually exclusive and may augment and magnify each other.

    “In other words, relationships do not necessarily conflict with but help sustain one’s personal growth,” said Oscar Ybarra, U-M professor of psychology and of management and organizations.

    The findings thus address both the importance of distinguishing yourself from others by fulfilling personal goals, but also being a good group member by fulfilling social obligations and cultivating supportive relationships.

    Building positive social connections with others should put people in a good position to receive social support that is instrumental to personal growth, as well as allowing people to strike a balance between two fundamental values: to strive and connect,” said Lee, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State University.


  9. Voter behavior influenced by hot weather

    August 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Political rebellions and riots have been associated with warmer weather, but until now, there has been little research on its potential influence on peaceful and democratic political behavior. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, has uncovered a connection between changes in temperature and voting behavior in the United States of America.

    “We found that increases in state-level temperatures from one election to another are related to increases in state-level voter turnout, and increases in votes for the incumbent party,” says Jasper Van Assche, who completed this research in the Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology at Ghent University, Belgium.

    “Voter behavior data from each state was collected for all the U.S. presidential elections from 1960 to 2016 and compared to the difference between maximum temperature on voting day and that of the previous election day,” explains Van Assche. “We found that for every 10C increase in temperature, voter turnout increased by 1.4%.”

    The study also revealed that a rise in temperature motivated some citizens to cast their vote for the smaller political parties (Greens, Libertarians, Independents). Counteracting this, was the finding that warmer weather was a stronger motivator for some citizens to vote for the government currently in power.

    “Although these effects are rather small compared to the ‘usual suspects’ that predict voting, they might play a role in close races,” says Van Assche.

    The study details one such case; the 2000 presidential election. Applying the findings of the study, Van Assche and his co-authors suggests a mere 10C (1.8oF) increase in temperature may have made Al Gore the 43rd U.S. President instead of George W. Bush, as Gore would have won in Florida.

    Van Assche is keen to explain that his results were not affected by other factors that can influence voter behavior.

    “Importantly, the relationship between voter behavior and turnout remained true even when we took into account the ‘usual suspects’ that can have an effect — the president being available for reappointment, the incumbent president being elected or not (Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford were Vice Presidents), presidential approval ratings, whether the president’s party had a majority in Congress during the two last years, and change in state gross domestic product (GDP), amongst others.”

    The study analyzed changes in temperature (an increase or decrease in temperature on voting day, when compared to the previous election day), rather than absolute temperature because of the latter’s potential effects on the results. An absolute temperature of 30oC would be a normal temperature for California, but hot in Alaska. Moreover, absolute temperature can be linked to other factors that may affect voting behavior. For example, poverty is generally higher in countries with hotter climates.

    It is hoped that future studies will delve deeper and increase our knowledge of what can influence voter behavior.

    “There is a large amount of research on voter behavior, but little attention has been paid to the seemingly illogical factors that can influence the way people vote. Future studies could expand our understanding by tapping into smaller levels of analyses (e.g., cities or counties) or by including emotions (such as anger) which might explain some of the effects,” concludes Van Assche.


  10. ‘Robin Hood effects’ on motivation in math

    August 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universität Tübingen press release:

    Students from families with little interest in math benefit more from a school intervention program that aims at increasing math motivation than do students whose parents regard math as important. A study by researchers at the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology indicates the intervention program has a “Robin Hood effect” which reduces the “motivational gap” between students from different family backgrounds because new information about the importance of math is made accessible to underprivileged students. Something known as the “Matthew effect” did not take place in this study. The “Matthew effect” says that students who already have good foundations and are therefore more privileged, profit most from an intervention. The results of the study were recently published in Developmental Psychology.

    The Tübingen researchers first analyzed data on the attitudes towards math of roughly 1,900 German ninth-grade students and their parents. The students then took part in a teaching unit about the usefulness of math that was conducted by the researchers. In a presentation, they were given important information about the significance of mathematics for students’ future careers and their daily life. Afterwards they either wrote an essay about the usefulness of math or evaluated interview quotations about math’s relevance.

    At six weeks and at five months after the intervention, the students were again asked about their motivation towards math. The intervention showed several “Robin Hood effects” on the students’ utility and attainment values as well as on students’ effort: the motivation of students from families with little interest in math was more positively affected than the motivation of students from families with greater interest in the subject. Yet the differential effects were observed only five months after the teaching unit. Six weeks after the intervention no differential effects were apparent. “Our assumption was that there would be a delayed effect on the motivation of less privileged students, since it would take some time for them to reflect on and internalize the information they received during the teaching unit,” explains Isabelle Häfner. This so-called “sleeper-effect” grows stronger the more time passes, she adds.

    The study results also suggest that it is not the socioeconomic status of their families — education, income and occupation — that is central for students’ motivation to learn, but rather their parents’ interest in a subject. “If parents are interested in math for example, this might affect the way they spend their free time. They spend more time talking about a subject with their children, thereby passing on their interest in it,” says Häfner. Students from families with little interest in math, on the other hand, do not have access to this kind of information. When they receive it at school, they may profit more greatly because the novelty of the information encourages them to reflect on it. One of the two project leaders and director of the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology, Ulrich Trautwein, stresses the importance of this finding: “Often children who are already privileged are those who end up benefitting from additional programs. Our results highlight the potential of classroom interventions to reduce motivational gaps between students from families with fewer and students from families with greater motivational resources.”