A new online study will ask students to direct their browsers away from Facebook for a few minutes and instead spend some time thinking about the behaviors which have defined their college careers.
Professor Samuel Putnam's Psychology 277 class, Lab in Development, has spent the semester designing a research experiment which will attempt to test the development of college students, focusing specifically on the aspects of personality that change at college.
After dividing into five groups, students in the class developed a set of 40 questions about a particular topic. Questions from each group were then selected to form the comprehensive study that will be distributed to students.
According to Emma Powers '09, the study is unique both in the age of its participants and the topics on which it focuses.
"There aren't that many college development studies," said Powers. "There are mostly child development."
"This is the first time any NESCAC school has done any study to this extent," she added.
While most psychological studies conducted at Bowdoin rely on first-year psychology students, who are required to participate as subjects, this study will attempt to break from that mold.
According to Putnam, the data collected from this study may be more applicable to human behavior since it will survey a greater range than simply first-years.
"The big problem...is that we explain all these things about student behavior by looking at first-year students," said Putnam. "We don't really get to study development, and what we really want to do in this class is look at the difference between first years and seniors."
The five categories on which the study focuses are the use of Facebook, sexual promiscuity, parents' influence on career, coping mechanisms, and environmental awareness. While some of these categories, or constructs, have been studied before, topics like Facebook are completely new to psychological studies.
"There have been few studies done on it because it is such a new media," said Powers, who focused specifically on designing questions for the Facebook use section of the study. Her group worked to design questions which would yield data not only about Facebook use in general, but also how it affects other aspects of college life.
"For that, there's a lot of constructs...friendship quality, friendship quantity, self-confidence, and extroversion," said Powers.
"We kind of went all out," said Tanya Farber '10, citing Facebook as an example of a more unconventional study topic. "It's been more conservative in the past in terms of research topics," she said. In addition to the interesting topics motivating students to take the study, Farber added that "hopefully the results will be more interesting."
"In the long term it would be great to develop it into a longitudinal study," said Powers. The main goal this year, however, is to get results and as much participation as possible.
"For right now we're really focused on getting absolutely everyone we can," said Powers. "This is definitely going to be a groundbreaking study if we get everyone's participation."
Starting next week, students will be able to access the study through a link on Putnam's Web page. The survey can be filled out from a personal computer, and should take between half-an-hour and an hour to complete. Questions are all multiple choice.
"It's kind of lengthy, but it's varied so it's not just asking the same questions over and over," said Farber.
Participants in the study will be rewarded with free entry into a raffle for a cash prize of $250. Other prizes include ipods and gift certificates to local businesses like Scarlet Begonia's, Bart and Greg's, and the Gelato Fiasco.
Campus participation, however, does not end when students click the "Submit" button. After the collected data has been analyzed, the student researchers will create posters with their findings.
"We'll have an open forum and then the public is invited," said Putnam.