Can Professors' Encouragement Boost Exam Scores?: A Quasi Experiment

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Self-Determination Theory (STD) assumes people by nature are self-motivating and eager to succeed because it is personally satisfying and rewarding. This suggests that academic success is highly determined by a student's motivational incentive to perform well. As a result, there has been extensive research investigating the differences between the types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic, and how they affect academic performance. Other research has studied the effects of incentives, both internal and external, on student performance. After exploring the research regarding academic success, the goal of this study was to understand how professors could increase students' motivation through incentives in a classroom setting. This quasi-experimental study with non-equivalent groups investigated the interaction between incentive (operationalized as positive encouragement) and performance in two Microeconomics course classes, comprising 58 college students (22 women, '36 men). Students either received encouragement from the professor or not, over the time period of two exams. T-tests revealed no effect of encouragement. However, a third exam score was included and a linear regression was used to isolate and analyze the effects of other variables, such as the students' background ability (e.g., GPA), habits (e.g., amount of time spent studying) and personality (e.g., type of motivation driving the student). The analyses indicated that encouragement increased exam scores by 2-4 points. The research limitations and suggestions for further research are later discussed.
Thesis completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Alfred University Honors Program.
Honors thesis, Psychology, Motivation, Academic success