No matter whether you think you can or can’t, the saying goes, you’re rightNeil Lewis, Jr. from Cornell University talks with us in episode 29 about about his research into what differentiates students who experience difficulty in college as signaling its importance from those that make it mean that completing college is impossible. His article “No pain no gain? Social demographic correlates and identity consequences of interpreting experienced difficulty as importance” was published with Cristina Aelenei and Daphna Oyserman in the January 2017 issue of Contemporary Educational Psychology.

Differing Interpretations of Difficulty - Neil Lewis, Jr.
Differing Interpretations of Difficulty - Neil Lewis, Jr.
Differing Interpretations of Difficulty - Neil Lewis, Jr. Differing Interpretations of Difficulty - Neil Lewis, Jr.
@rwatkins says:
Lastly, Neil spoke with us about what future applications he hopes that researchers might take on regarding identity based motivation theory.
@rwatkins says:
We followed up by asking Neil his thoughts on preprints which are early versions of scholarly or scientific papers that do to the rise of open science initiatives are now ubiquitous across the web.
@rwatkins says:
Neil’s been on Twitter since 2014 and both has a prodigious following and is himself a frequent poster of news about science and academia. Given the growing number of alternatives to traditional publishing, we asked him how he stays current with what’s new in his field.
@rwatkins says:
In addition the team made use of MTurk’s built-in “qualifications” feature to select only a cohort of online participants who hadn’t completed related studies in the past so we wanted to follow up to ask Neil to say a few words about how the process works.
@rwatkins says:
Neil and his team made use of Amazon Mechanical Turk, or MTurk, to recruit people to complete the projects questionnaires. Since several of our prior guests had also made use of MTurk Ryan and I wanted to know what Neil sees as being the pros and cons of crowdsourcing research participants.
@rwatkins says:
Neil and his team study used a questionnaire to collect data regarding participants experience of difficulty. They also solicited information about the markers of social stratification such as those that he just discussed. So Ryan and I were interested in learning how these factors related the people’s experience of difficulty in college.
@rwatkins says:
Under identity based motivation theory, people’s identification with their social class and ethnic minority status can influence the way that they experience difficulty as do their levels of education and income. We’ll hear what Neil had to say about how these social stratifications figure into the theory after this short break.
@rwatkins says:
In addition to the interpretation of experienced difficulty, two other components of identity-based motivation are “connection” and “strategies.” Ryan and I were interested in learning what each of these refers to, and how they relate to forming an identity as a college student.
@rwatkins says:
Neil and his team found that participants with higher levels of education were more likely to interpret difficulty as signalling importance, an effect that was particularly pronounced among racial minorities. They also found that students who tended to agree that difficulty implies importance were more certain about attaining their academic identities, and more willing to sacrifice to do so; an effect which benefitted community college students more than university students. It seemed to Ryan and me that it might be sometimes reasonable for, say, a high school student to think “sure school is important, but it’s impossible for me to do well, so it’s not really that important to me.” We asked Neil his thoughts about this issue.
@rwatkins says:
The framework the team used to conceptualize the two studies is known as identity based motivation theory which was first proposed by Neil’s collaborator Daphna Oyserman. It concerns how motivation engagement and self-concept are affected among people who experience difficulty in attaining the goals they set for themselves. A core prediction of the theory is that it’s not their experience of difficulty per se but rather how that experience is interpreted which matters most. In particular what was of consequence in the context of a team study is whether academic identities – and the strategies to attain them – come to students minds and influence their academic engagement, as Neil explains next.
@rwatkins says:
Neil and his team on this project – which included Cristina Aelenei who’s now with Paris Descartes University and Daphna Oyserman at the University of Southern California – carried out two separate studies both of which were related to the degree to which students viewed experiencing difficulty in school as a reminder of the importance of persisting towards attaining their educational goals so we asked him to explain what each of these studies entailed as well as what they found.
@rwatkins says:
Since “unimportance” and “possibility” aren’t opposites of one another Ryan and I wondered whether “importance” and “impossibility” are. Here’s what Neil had to say about the question.
@rwatkins says:
As it’s the main title of his paper we began by asking Neil to explain the basic idea behind the notion of no pain no gain.
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Websites and other resources

  • Hosts / Producers

    Doug Leigh

    How to Cite

    Leigh, D., & Lewis, N., Jr. (2018, August 7). Parsing Science – Differing Interpretations of Difficulty (Version 1). figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.6959309

    Music

    What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers

    Transcript

    Neil Lewis, Jr.: It turns out actually they’re not quite opposite ends of the same coin, they turn out to be two different coins.

    Doug Leigh: This is Parsing Science: the unpublished story is behind the world’s most compelling science as told by the researchers themselves. I’m Doug Leigh. Ryan’s away on vacation this week but he’ll be back next time. Today in episode 29 of the show we’re joined by Neil Lewis, Jr., a social psychologist from Cornell University. He’ll talk with us about his research into what differentiates students who experience difficulty in college is a sign of the importance of succeeding academically from those that take difficulty in school to mean that successfully completing a college degree is impossible. Here’s Neil Lewis, Jr..

    Neil Lewis, Jr.: Well, hi I’m Neil Lewis, Jr.. I’m an assistant professor at Cornell University in the Department of Communication and I’m also in the graduate faculty in Communication and Psychology here at Cornell. I’m broadly interested in trying to understand what are barriers that keep people from achieving their goals in a variety of domains. So done work on savings behavior I’ve done work on health behavior increasingly doing more work and in the climate change sustainability area; do a lot of work in education. But what are the barriers that keep people from succeeding and how can studying those processes help us to potentially develop interventions that can help people achieve their goals. That’s sort of the broad unifying theme of my work.

    Click here for more of the transcript