In-Lab Experimental Test

DOES UNIVERSITY IDENTIFICATION LEAD TO UNIVERSITY ENGAGEMENT?

Social psychology research with Dr. Heather Smith, Sonoma State University (SSU)

Challenge: Less than 59% of students who start a bachelor’s degree at four year institutions complete them. Research has shown that university engagement is one consistent predictor of academic, however, existing research was correlational and not experimental. Furthermore, many universities use this data as a reason to build social facilities and programs for students but there was no evidence pointing to that being more effective than encouraging engagement in the areas of morality or educational competence.

Research Approach and Methods: This was a controlled experiment administered in the psychology lab at Sonoma State University. The 2x3 factorial design weighted high or low identification with the university (encouraged by a writing prompt in which the student wrote about either a positive or negative experience) by three types of writing prompts (to encourage reflections of a social, moral, or educational competence experiences).  The randomly assigned undergraduate students came into the lab to complete two surveys. To measure engagement with the university an optional third survey was offered during a wait time in between. Engagement was measured by whether the participants volunteered to complete the third survey and the amount they wrote in their responses.  Two coders categorized the answers to open ended university engagement questionnaire items into identity content areas and any discrepancies were categorized by a third coder.

Key Learnings:  The participants encouraged to identify highly with the university were more willing to complete the third survey and wrote longer answers than those who were assigned to the low identification group. There was evidence for causal relationship between identification and engagement. The content of the prime, however, did not clearly affect how the participants engaged. It was thought that if they were primed to identify on a social level they would write more (or less for the low identification group) social suggestions. This was not the case for all three content areas.

Impact of Research Findings:  On a simple level these findings indicate that employees encouraged to strongly identify with an organization are likely to have higher levels of engagement with that organization. Higher levels of engagement likely influence productivity in positive ways. This seems to be generally understood today, with the rise of companies like Google at which employees refer to themselves as “Googlers” and are constantly reminded of that group identity.