Ashland University Professor and Students Conduct Persistence Study

Research conducted by an Ashland University professor and her students gives hope that there might be a way for bosses and employers to increase work production of their employees.

Dr. Diane Bonfiglio, assistant professor of psychology, and six Ashland University students -- Brandy Dilgard, Cassie Mosley, Melissa Welch, Jessie Bates, Niki Valentine, and Lauren Goossens  – attempted to alter participants' levels of optimism and then measured the amount of time students spent working on a set of difficult puzzles.

“The results of two separate experiments suggest a trend for participants primed for optimism to persist longer on the anagram-solving task,” Bonfiglio said. “Though these experiments were limited by small sample sizes, trends in the data suggest a relationship between the priming of optimism and task persistence.”

So, what impact could this have in the work place?

“Well, if this holds true then employees who are more optimistic about their job and work place would be more persistent in their duties and possibly work harder,” Bonfiglio said. “So it makes sense that bosses and employers should attempt to create a more positive work place.”

Bonfiglio noted that optimism is the tendency to believe that good things will happen in the future.

“Though previously considered to be a relatively stable factor, emerging research suggests that optimism may be manipulated,” Bonfiglio said. “Since research suggests a link between optimism and task persistence, the manipulation of optimism may result in greater task persistence.”

Bonfiglio explained that the research consisted of two related experiments. “In both experiments, researchers examined whether participants primed for optimism persisted longer on a difficult anagram-solving task than did participants who were not primed for optimism,” she said.  

Experiment 1 used a future thinking task to prime optimism, wherein some participants were asked to think about the likelihood of good things happening to them in the future and others were not. 

Experiment 2 used a scrambled sentences task to prime optimism, wherein participants rearranged groups of words to form sentences; for some participants, the groups of words each included one word that evoked optimism (e.g. confident, hopeful), and for others, the groups of words each included one word that evoked pessimism (e.g. negative, skeptical) or was neutral (e.g. lamp, magazine).

“Though the observed effect sizes were small, this is a promising area for future research,” noted Bonfiglio.

The results of the research have been summarized in a paper, "Participation in a Priming Task Predicts Persistence," which was accepted for publication in the fall 2012 issue of the journal, Modern Psychological Studies.

The paper was the result of the collaboration of two groups of students who were working on similar ideas. Dilgard, Mosley and Welch were researching one aspect of the paper in the PSYC 310: Advanced Research in Psychology class, while Bates, Valentine and Goossens were working with Bonfiglio as research assistants, and they collected data on a different aspect of the paper.

Both groups also presented their findings at the Eastern Psychological Association conference in Pittsburgh this past March.

All of the students are senior psychology majors except for Bates, who is a child and family studies major and a psychology minor. Dilgard earned lead author credit because she took the lead in terms of writing.

Ashland University, ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2013, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University ( values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.  ###


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