If Robert Frost had hired a career counselor, perhaps he would have taken the road more traveled. At least, that’s what recent research suggests. A new study shows that only when faced with harsh realities do people begin to question their picturesque view of their abilities and opt for a more beaten-down career path.
Researchers at Ohio State University at Lima painted various pictures—some sunny, some dark—for the school’s upperclassmen. After presenting a fake business and psychology master's degree program to students that promised to make them successful business psychologists, researchers assessed what it would take to deflate participants' aspirations of applying for the program. They then divided the students into four groups by current grade point average (GPA). From there the students faced varied levels of opposition in the application process.
Students in the control group were given an information sheet indicating no GPA requirement for the program. The remaining groups were given sheets indicating the GPA requirement was .10 above their current level. In one of these groups, a researcher posing as a career advisor pointed out that the students’ GPAs didn't meet the requirements. In another group, the “advisor” told students they were unlikely to be admitted, while the last group was given the most discouragement. The advisor told these students that although they weren't qualified and probably wouldn't be admitted, if they somehow squeaked by, they would most likely fail the program.
The researchers then assessed the students’ levels of self-doubt. The control group scored highest in self-confidence about their abilities and commitment to pursue the program, while the following groups fell in sequential order. The results, which appear in the current issue of Social Cognition, are especially relevant to students preparing to enter an uncertain job market, as well as to those guiding them, says lead researcher Patrick Carroll. Carroll plans to conduct new research on whether rejecting certain goals hurts or helps people.