In today’s competitive society, students are constantly searching for ways to succeed. Researchers have determined that students who possess self-compassion and a growth mindset will be the best equipped to face challenges. What is a growth mindset you may be wondering? This phrase was coined by Carol Dweck of Stanford University. A growth mindset belongs to those who believe they can always learn even from mistakes, while those with a contrasting fixed mindset believe their knowledge and abilities are limited and may be critical of themselves, especially when they make mistakes. Recently, two psychological studies were published which address the impact these factors have on students.
The first study, from Michigan State University, “Neural evidence for enhanced attention to mistakes among school-aged children with a growth mindset,” was published online in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. The second study, from the University of British Columbia, was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, “Don’t be so hard on yourself! Changes in self-compassion during the first year of university are associated with changes in well-being.” I happen to be a college freshman therefore the focus of this article will be on the UBC research on first year college students, with a quick overview of the MSU study.
The MSU research came from Jason Moser’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, evaluating the benefits of a growth mindset and the significance of young students learning from their mistakes. This study observed seven-year-old students and then classified them into two groups: fixed or growth mindset. The researchers then used an EEG to measure the brain waves of the students when they made mistakes playing a computerized game. The children who had higher brain activity when making a mistake were more likely to have greater success when continuing to play the game and were dubbed to have a growth mindset. This higher brain activity signaled their focus on attempting to understand what they had done wrong while looking for ways to improve their performance. The researchers stated that parents and educators should encourage students not to ignore their mistakes or believe they are bad, but rather to utilize them as a learning opportunity.
The second psychological study was performed by researchers from the University of British Columbia. The UBC study tied the success of college freshman to how they handled themselves in times of stress. They focused on the “self-compassion” of college freshman and how it corresponded to their attitude and adjustment to changes and failures in their first semester. The research built upon several prior studies. One showed college freshman students experiencing declines in their psychological and social well-being as their living arrangements, responsibilities, and social interactions change during their first year at school leading to increased stress levels. However, self-compassion during times of stress could be one factor helping students. Self-determination theory is a set of principles used by the researchers to understand the association between self-compassion and well-being. What exactly is self-compassion? It is defined as self-kindness (not being too critical of yourself), common humanity (understanding that we all make mistakes), and mindfulness (keeping balance in your life). But exactly how self-compassion equates to a student’s well-being has not been examined. So, the UBC researchers’ intent was to evaluate if changes in self-compassion were somehow related to changes in an individual’s personal needs satisfaction (PNS). If personal needs were being met, then maybe this could lead to improved well-being. PNS is defined as competence (one can complete difficult tasks), autonomy (being in charge of yourself), and relatedness (connecting with others).
The research took place at a Canadian university in which 189 freshman college students, recruited through course websites and recruitment booths, participated in the study. Most of participants were women, 77.2%, including a wide range of ethnicities, 50% of which lived on campus, 49% knew their roommates before school began, and 99% were single. These individuals took an online questionnaire their first month of school and another five months later. The questionnaire consisted of three self-assessments. The first measured mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity; the second was a basic psychological need satisfaction questionnaire; and the third was a subjective vitality scale measuring well-being of the students. Each of these questionnaires allowed the students to rate their responses on a numeric scale. The researchers did not assign the participants into groups, nor did they observe the students over the course of their school year.
The results of the study validated the researchers’ hypothesis proving that if a student experienced an improvement in their self-compassion, they also had an improvement in their personal well-being because self-compassion improved their psychological need satisfaction. Those who were kinder to themselves, or less critical, were able to better adapt to changes and setbacks. While the research is insightful, it does have several limiting factors. Research was only conducted at one university. Having a larger and more diversified group of students from different universities would make the data more meaningful. Also, how accurate is self-reporting by students? The researchers stated their study design did not allow for causal claims and that the results cannot imply self-compassion leads to an increase in well-being. So in future research, the study design should be enhanced to determine if one does directly impact the other.
Although the UBC study does have limitations, it makes one step back and conduct a self-examination. Do we treat ourselves with compassion? Or do we get mired in frustration at our failures? Hopefully, the research will make students examine their attitudes as well as push researchers to conduct further studies to aid educators in helping students cope with stress.
The Process of Writing a Psychological News Article
Writing a news article summarizing a psychological study is challenging! My article is based off of Christopher Bergland’s psychological news article “Self-Compassion, Growth Mindset, and the Benefits of Failure.” I appreciate the art of creating an article that is both informative and entertaining for the reader. Research materials are factual and parts can be difficult to understand. Bergland’s article was entertaining but left out numerous important facts that I believe the readers need so they can draw their own conclusions. He had many quotes and antidotal information that was interesting, but it took away from the actual research findings. So, my challenge was to include sufficient information for the reader in an understandable format. It is a difficult balance to include enough information without bombarding the reader with facts. The previous research included in the UBC study was a building block to their research but included so many citations for researchers, acronyms and definitions that putting all of that information into a concise format was challenging.
MUCH NEEDED SACRIFICES
In order to provide details left out of Bergland’s article, I did not include the various quotes or the Ted Talk video. These were informative but did not leave sufficient space for every piece of information needed from the scholarly research. I did attempt to provide a good overview of the research; however, I did leave out details surrounding how the data was analyzed. I believe the readers would want to have all of the facts on the participations, the questionnaires, and the results, and not the details of analyzing the data. A short article does not allow for all of the details to be presented.
A WHOLE NEW PERSPECTIVE
After reading the research materials and writing my own article, my perspective of journalists has changed. Before this project I was too trusting towards journal articles believing they correctly summarized the material, but now I have learned to be more cautious. I realize that journalists do not include all the information that they should. They are focused on delivering an entertaining message rather than an in-depth report. After reviewing the scholar research, I realized how much information was missing from Christopher Bergland’s article. He did not include all the information necessary that I needed to make my own assumptions on the research studies. I also learned how difficult it can be for journalists to include and exclude certain types and amounts of information, for it to not only sound accurate, but for it also to be relevant. Overall, this project provided a valuable learning experience that was challenging yet enlightening.
Bergland, Christopher. “Self-Compassion, Growth Mindset, and the Benefits of Failure.” Psychology Today. N.p., 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 4 Feb. 2017.
Gunnell, Katie E., Amber D. Mosewich, Carolyn E. McEwen, Robert C. Eklund, and Peter R.E. Crocker. “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself! Changes in Self-compassion during the First Year of University Are Associated with Changes in Well-being.” Personality and Individual Differences. N.p., 17 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.