The the effects of educational experiences

Topics: Big Five personality traits, Psychology, Trait theory Pages: 150 (26022 words) Published: April 14, 2014


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
in the Graduate College of the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011

Urbana, Illinois
Doctoral Committee:
Professor Brent Roberts, Chair
Associate Professor R. Chris Fraley
Professor Eva Pomerantz
Professor Jim Rounds
Associate Professor Edelyn Verona

Recent research suggests that educational experiences lead to positive outcomes for reasons other than gains in cognitive abilities. Specifically, non-cognitive skills (i.e. personality traits) may change as a result of educational experiences (Heckman et al., 2010). To date, the idea that educational experiences contribute to changes in personality traits has received very little empirical support. The current study examines the relationship between educational experiences and personality trait development in a large German sample across four waves beginning in high school and throughout college. Findings suggest that personality traits in high school predict the type of educational experiences students have in college. Secondly, a number of educational experiences are associated with changes in personality traits. For example, going to class and spending more time on one’s homework is associated with increases in conscientiousness while having fewer stressful experiences are associated with decreases in neuroticism. Similarly, changes in educational experiences are associated with changes in personality traits, suggesting a reciprocal relationship between educational experiences and personality traits. Finally, a series of auto-regressive and auto-regressive latent trajectory (ALT) models found evidence that educational experiences can lead to changes in personality traits and vice-versa. Overall, this study suggests that educational contexts are important for the development of personality traits. Viewed in this light, one learns more in school than just class material.

I am eternally indebted to my unparalleled advisor, colleague, and friend, Brent Roberts. He took a young, naïve, wannabe scientist and turned him into a slightly less young and naïve scientist (Who said you cannot change personality?). His openmindedness, work ethic, and ability to integrate diverse theories are all qualities I strive for. Thank you for all of your guidance and support.

My entire academic career would not be possible without the assistance of a number of individuals during my time at UW-Madison. Thanks to the PPD Lab at the Psychiatric Department for giving me my first taste of a longitudinal study (and for making it clear that my interests were not in clinical psychology), to Jeremy Biesanz for introducing me to personality psychology and for instilling a love of statistics, and finally to Avshalom Caspi, who in a short amount of time left an indelible mark on the way I approach science. Many thanks also go to Ulrich Trautwein and Oliver Lüdtke, who were my gracious hosts during a summer in Germany, and allowed me access to the TOSCA dataset. I learned a great deal from both of them in a short amount of time and will never forget the experience. I would also like to thank my doctoral committee, Chris Fraley, Eva Pomerantz, Jim Rounds, and Edelyn Verona for all of their helpful input into the dissertation. Special thanks goes to Jenessa Sprague, who has provided support, encouragement, and a welcome distraction throughout the dissertation process. You keep me sane, motivated, and loved. Finally, I would like to thank my parents and sister for their everlasting support and encouragement. Their willingness to allow me to pursue whatever struck my interest paved the way for the person I am today.

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