New Research Suggests Scare Tactics of Strict Teachers Affect the Psychology of Students

First Posted: Apr 21, 2014 08:03 PM EDT

For colleges and universities throughout the United States, finals week is taking place within the next month. A very stressful week for many could be worsened if teachers and professors reiterate consequences of poor performance.

The American Psychological Association is the world's largest association of psychologists, with nearly 130,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students as its members. The study, "The Scare Tactic: Do Fear Appeals Predict Motivation and Exam Scores?", was published in the APA journal School Psychology Quarterly and was coauthored by David Putwain and Richard Remedios.

The authors' findings note the self-worth theory could play a role. The self-worth theory was proposed by Martin Covington, and according to its definition, "humans naturally strive to maintain a sense of self-worth, or an appraisal of one's own value as a person." The authors concluded, "a position derived from self-worth theory that the negative consequences of fear appeals arise from their focus on avoiding failure rather than their focus on extrinsic consequences," according to the study.

Their study involved 347 students from two schools that provide a study program for the exam to obtain a General Certificate of Secondary Education. The participants' average age was 15. The basic finding of the research was that students who felt threatened by their teachers' messages on failure felt less motivated and score worse on the exam than those who did not feel threatened/did not have teachers who focused on failure.

The students were provided with a script of questions given by a teacher that was not their primary instructor. They were asked questions such as "How often do your teachers tell you that unless you work hard you will fail your exam?" and Do you feel worried with your teachers tell you that your exam is getting nearer?" The authors collected the students' responses to all of the questions (which were recorded twice over the course of 18 months) and then collected their test scores when the program was over.

Lead author David Putwain suggests, "Teachers should plan what types of messages would be the most effective and how they could be incorporated into the lesson plans," in a new release.

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