help in bad times
Wanting better grades won't improve study
skills, researchers found. But making the process fun will.
By Rick Waters '95
psychology professor Charles Lord admits that finding his research on
directed thinking splashed in the pages of the women's magazine Redbook
is pretty amusing. But look in the October 2001 issue. It's right there,
along with an article called "200 percent more fun in bed -- tonight!"
and a Heather Locklear exclusive.
some good-natured ribbing from the rest of the department," said Lord,
who collaborated with fellow TCU psychology professor Donald Dansereau.
their work on self-motivation and habit formation is the kind of stuff
that stops most of us in our tracks at the 10-items-or-less checkout line.
That's what the magazine's editors thought when they saw the professors'
research in the slightly more academic periodical Journal of Applied
Dansereau theorized that healthy activities often considered unappealing,
such as dieting or exercise, are significantly more achievable by using
directed thinking -- a psychological term for the way we problem-solve mentally.
that people have within themselves the motivation," Lord said. "If we
could get them to think it was fun, maybe they would follow through more
with their commitments."
picked a topic close to home -- studying.
research indicated that just pondering why an activity is beneficial often
produced the opposite effect. The professors wanted to test those results
against what they believed was a better solution -- to imagine steps or strategies
to make an activity more appealing. They thought students might be more
dedicated to hitting the books if they could come up with actions rather
It's a why-versus-how
notion based on experiments with athletes. In previous research, golfers
and basketball players who imagined making the perfect putt or a flawless
free throw, and then practiced those steps, achieved greater success than
those who merely pursued their normal workouts.
imagining the physical process of success," Lord said. "And we wondered
if a cerebral, cognitive activity such as studying would work the same
Dansereau conducted an experiment with more than 120 undergraduates -- half
coming up with reasons, half with actions. The experiment also called
for some to work in groups and others to think alone. Each took a few
minutes to brainstorm. Later, all of the students completed a survey to
rate two things -- how much they intended to study in the future and how
much impact their ideas would have the next time they cracked the books.
were as the professors suspected. Directed thinking elicited optimistic
behavioral intentions toward studying for both groups. But those who thought
about actions such as creating a comfortable atmosphere or rewarding yourself
with treats, showed a significantly more positive response than did those
who pondered reasons (learning new things, making better grades or boosting
also generated more actions than reasons and rated their action ideas
as more likely than their reason ideas to have a positive impact on intentions
an open question whether thinking about actions increased intentions to
study, or thinking about reasons decreased them," Dansereau said. "The
data suggest the former because the greater impact students attributed
to their ideas, the more positive were there behavioral intentions."
you're faced with the next challenge, imagine possible actions to get
you thinking about steps needed to reach a goal. It will make it more
attainable. "You'll become confident that you can stick with those steps
and eventually achieve your goal," Lord said.
could you ask from supermarket magazine advice?