Field Based Educational Research On-Line
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Influence of School Psychologists' Attire on the Autonomic Arousal of Third-Graders
Referred for Learning Disabilities
Your Name Here
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Influence of School Psychologists' Attire on the Autonomic Arousal of Third-Graders
Referred for Learning Disabilities
Hebb (1955) theorized, based on an extensive analysis of all the then currently available data relating performance to arousal, that a curvi-linear relationship existed between arousal and performance. Typically, Hebb postulated, behavioral efficiency, i.e. performance, increases with increasing levels of arousal, but at a certain arousal point performance will begin decreasing even as arousal-levels continue to increase. This relationship holds broad implications, especially when one considers the possible impact upon diagnostic assessments of performance. Since school psychologists frequently administer diagnostic tests to students, and since there is an established non-linear relationship between arousal and performance, controllable factors that may influence children's arousal- or anxiety-levels when administered such tests would prove invaluable to school psychologists in obtaining more accurate and valid diagnostic scores.
Given that excessive levels of arousal or anxiety interact in a negative fashion with performance, it is important to know whether mundane factors, such as school psychologists attire or sex, influence students arousal-levels. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether the dress and/or sex of school psychologists influences childrens levels of arousal during the administration of a diagnostic test. Should the data indicate that attire or sex influences arousal-levels, then further research will be needed to learn methods for best controlling the impact of these factors. Because children with learning disabilities constitute the largest population of special education students, and because the majority of children with learning disabilities are referred for services in the third grade (Kirk, Gallagher, & Anastasiow, 1993), third-graders referred for possible learning disabilities will be targeted in this investigation.
Sex, Appearance, and Arousal
Numerous studies have identified non-verbal stimuli as having the capacity to influence both perceptions and behaviors of others during interaction. For example, Washbourne and Heil (1960) found that teachers described as fearful or anxious were more likely to have lower achieving students than teachers described as non-fearful or non-anxious. Grimes and Allinsmith (1961), for instance, found that children who regularly experienced high levels of anxiety did not function as well in unstructured environments; rather, these children demonstrated more success in highly structured classes with predictable consequences.
Peoples' attractiveness has also been found to influence the perceptions and behaviors of others. Mills and Aronson (1965) noted that female communicators who modeled attractive behavior (i.e., tight clothing, neat hair, and appropriate make-up) were more effective at persuading male participants to change their opinion than were females who did not model attractive behavior (i.e., loose, sloppy clothing; messy hair; and no make-up). In a study on a similar topic, Irilli, Kehle, and Guidubaldi (1978) administered teacher rating scales to 144 third-grade students after having shown them photos of male and female teachers of varying ages and physical attractiveness. In general, students judged physically attractive teachers superior to unattractive teachers. Third-graders also perceived attractive teachers to be more fun and comforting. Like Irillis et al. results, Buck and Tiene (1989) found that physically appealing female authoritarian teachers were perceived far less negatively than any other type of authoritarian teacher.
The impact of counselors physical attractiveness has also been investigated. Vargas and Barkowski (1982) discovered that the physical attractiveness of a counselor influenced college students' perceived competence of the counselor. Barak, Patkin, and Dell (1982) found that counselors who were very responsive to clients' emotions were rated as more attractive and expert than those who were less responsive.
Like Mills and Aronsons (1965) research, a number of studies have investigated whether perceived attractiveness is affected by ones attire. For example, Bickman (1974) designed a series of studies on how a person's clothing influences other people's behaviors. In his first study he investigated whether a person's sex, age, race and/or attire had an impact on other people's honesty in returning a dime left in a phone booth. He found that 77% of subjects returned the dime to well-dressed people, but only 38% returned it to poorly-dressed people. In his second experiment, Bickman found attire that implied authority (e.g., a guard uniform resembling a policeman's with no gun or badge) affected whether people complied with requests. In similar experiments Johnson, Nagasawa, and Peters (1975) learned that both males and females were perceived as being more sociable if they wore clothing that was considered in-style, and Hamid (1968) noted that people's clothing can influence how others perceive their personality during first impression situations.
Numerous researchers have investigated how teachers attire influences students perceptions and behaviors. Wong (1990), for instance, claims to have identified ten clothing factors for males and females, combined; seven clothing factors for females, alone; and six clothing factors for males that serve as major distracters for children in the classroom. Rollman (1980) asked college students to rate male and female teachers dressed in either very formal, moderately formal, or very informal clothing on a 1-5 Likert scale over 10 positive teacher characteristics. Rollman found that for both male and female teachers, those clothed in informal attire were seen as being more friendly and flexible and teachers who wore more formal clothing were perceived as being more organized. In a nearly identical study to Rollmans, Phillips and Smith (1992) had 60 fourth-, seventh-, and ninth-graders rate one of three photographs of a teacher wearing very formal, moderately formal, or informal attire. The teacher wearing informal attire was perceived as being friendly, fair, and interesting. The teacher in the formal attire was considered organized, knowledgeable, and a good disciplinarian. The moderately formal attire elicited the most significant effects. The moderately formal attired teacher received all of the positive effects of the informal and formal, and was also considered understanding.
A few studies have investigated the effects of counselors' dress on others perceptions and behaviors. Schmidt and Strong (1970) found that counselors who were more formally dressed were considered to be more expert. Stillman and Harvey (1972) learned that counselors dress had only a slight, but not a statistically significant, effect on whether a client would disclose information. Further, Stillman and Harvey noted that attire had a slight effect on the client's rating of the counselors attractiveness in an initial interview. In a similar study, Roll and Roll (1984) found that counselors' attire had little influence on clients' perceptions of expertness, trustworthiness, or helpfulness.
There appears to be limited research on the effect of school psychologists sex or attire on subjects perceptions or behavior. In one study Crisci and Kassinove (1973) noted that low-income parents perceptions of a school psychologists expertise was influenced by the use of the title Dr. or Mr. Only Wasserman and Kassinove (1976) have investigated how a school psychologist's attire (formal versus informal) relates to perceptions or behavior. Wasserman and Kassinove found that (a) parents' compliance with recommendations and (b) parents perception of the psychologists expertise were not altered by a school psychologists clothing.
Published research on the effects of school psychologists sex or attire on behaviors is sparse. However, research on the effects of these factors, in general, supports the supposition that nonverbal stimuli--such as setting, emotional state, attractiveness, or attire--can influence other's perceptions and behaviors. Since nonverbal stimuli do affect responses and behavior, and since little research exists relating school psychologists factors to student behavior, it seems highly probable that nonverbal stimuli, such as ones sex or attire, may influence students behavior, such as arousal or anxiety. The proposed experiment, detailed below, differs from previous research in that I will investigate whether school psychologists' sex and attire impacts third-grade students autonomic arousal or anxiety levels. If either sex or formality of attire does affect students arousal levels, then school psychologists administering diagnostic tests will need this information to better facilitate testing situations in order to obtain diagnostic scores that are as valid as possible. Stated simply, should arousal levels increase due to a school psychologists attire or sex, and should arousal levels affect diagnostic test scores, then students could be misdiagnosed and misplaced due to very preventable reasons.
Three hundred students will be randomly selected from lists of third-graders referred for possible learning disabilities from 25 randomly selected school districts in Georgia. The sample size of 300 was derived using formulas discussed in Cohen (1988), and will enable a moderate sex or attire effect to be detected with a likelihood greater than .80.
Informed consent forms will be signed by each child's parent or legal guardian. Participants' names will not be recorded in the study; participants will be assigned identification numbers. Approval by the Institutional Review Board of Georgia Southern University for this study will be sought prior to its execution, although this experiment poses no, or only a minimal level of, physical or emotional harm to the subjects involved.
This study will utilize a posttest-only control group factorial design (Campbell & Stanley, 1966). The factorial conditions are defined as school psychologists sex (male or female) and attire (formal, moderately formal, or informal). Combined, these two factors form six cells or treatment conditions: male and formal, female and formal, male and moderately formal, etc. Twelve students will be randomly selected from each of the 25 school districts. Each group of 12 students will be randomly assigned to each of the six experimental conditions--two to each condition, making 50 participants per cell.
Instruments and Materials
The three levels of attire will be operationally defined for the female school psychologist as follows:
formal--a navy-blue, two-piece suit with a skirt-length of one inch below the knee; a plain, white, silk, pull-over blouse; navy-blue, sheer hose; and plain, leather, navy-blue, half-inch heels;
moderately formal--a long-sleeve, navy-blue, dress with a white, lacy design at the neck; a free-flowing, pleated skirt that reaches four inches above the ankle; navy-blue, sheer hose; and plain, navy-blue, matte material shoes with half-inch heels; and
informal--a navy-blue sweatshirt, blue jeans, white socks, and white tennis shoes.
In all three conditions the female school psychologist will wear only small gold loop earrings; a watch with gold facing and plain, black band; and a wedding band.
The three levels of formality of dress will be defined for the male school psychologist as follows:
formal--a navy-blue, two-piece, plain, blue suit; a plain, white, cotton shirt; a plain, navy-blue tie; navy-blue socks; and black-leather, dress shoes;
moderately formal--a long-sleeve, white, cotton shirt; navy-blue, casual slacks; a black belt; navy-blue socks; and black-sued shoes; and
informal--a navy-blue sweatshirt, blue jeans, white socks, and white tennis shoes.
In all three conditions the male school psychologist will wear only a watch with gold facing and plain black band, and a wedding band.
The dependent variable, level of arousal, will be defined as the student's average heart-rate based on the average of nine 30-second readings taken in a 5-minute testing interval. Each participant's pulse will be taken by an Automatic Digital Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor by Omron, Model HEM-601. (For an illustration of the device, see appendix A.) Inflation of the wrist unit is not necessary for obtaining a constant heart-rate reading. Blood pressure will not be used as a measure of autonomic arousal due to the probability that, given the participants' age and developmental level, their difficulty keeping their wrists still would cause the monitor to give inaccurate blood pressure readings and the inflation of the cuff could be frightening or uncomfortable for the participants.
Each student will wear the cuff around his or her wrist. The display panel giving the heart rate will be placed behind a barrier on the table and will only be seen by the school psychologist. A piece of 8" x 20" plain white poster-board folded in the center, with a whole punched in the bottom apex of the fold for the cord of the blood pressure monitor will serve as the above-mentioned barrier thus preventing the child from seeing the monitor reading. (See appendix B for a diagram of the barrier).
A stop-watch will be used to determine the 30 second intervals. The data will be recorded on a Data Recording Form. (To view a copy, see Appendix C.)
A vocabulary test was invented by the experimenter solely for the purpose of the experiment. Validity and reliability are of no importance since the items only attempt to simulate an actual testing experience. (To view a copy of the test, see Appendix D.) The school psychologist will read the instructions at the top of the page, filling in the blanks with each item, while simultaneously pointing to the vocabulary item and covering the future items with a white piece of paper. Thus, the participants will have two mediums of delivery: visual and auditory. This is similar to the presentation of the vocabulary items on the Stanford Binet and Weschler IQ tests. The vocabulary words were chosen from a list of kindergarten words. Each word is on the same level of difficulty, and all represent concrete, as opposed to abstract, concepts. These measures were taken to help insure that these third-graders' differences in anxiety or arousal will be more attributable to the independent variables than to stress linked to their specific learning disorders. Unlike items on the above-mentioned diagnostic IQ tests, these items are not presented in ascending level of difficulty (they are on the same level) because, depending on how fast the participant responds, a varying number of the items could be administered in the five minute segment and if faster students were given more difficult items, this could result in a heightened arousal-level.
To control for possible extraneous variables, the male and female confederate school psychologists will be chosen from a group of male and female Caucasian applicants. The female applicants will have shoulder-length brunette hair and the male applicants will have short (no longer than 1 inch on top) brunette hair. The applicants will be rated by 20 randomly selected college students from one to five on attractiveness based on an above the shoulder photograph. The two matching top scorers of attractiveness from each sex will be used as confederate school psychologists in the study.
The confederates will then be required to memorize a script and to practice using the same enthusiasm, tone, inflection, and body language each time the script is delivered. A panel of three graduate students will evaluate and provide feedback on the confederates' consistency of deliverance in five rehearsals of the script (using a mock participant). (To see a copy of the script, see Appendix E.)
The experimenter will place the bracelet on the child's wrist and will allow the child to wear it for three minutes before beginning to monitor his or her heart-rate. This amount of time should provide time for the child's resting heart rate to adjust from walking/running to sitting and will also acquaint the child with wearing the bracelet. During these three minutes, the confederate will put the barrier in place and will attempt to establish rapport in accordance to the script. After the three minutes, the confederate will begin administering the mock test in accordance with the directions in the script. Using the Stop Watch, every 30 seconds, the confederate will record the heart-rate reading. The confederate will not record whether or not the child passes or fails an item. The test will be given for only five minutes. (The number of items administered may vary for each subject.) Finally, the confederate will thank the student for his or her participation.
Descriptive statistics will be reported for each variable, and means and standard deviations for the dependent variable will be reported for each cell. A two-way ANOVA will be used to analyze whether a main or interaction effect for the two independent variables upon the dependent variable exists.
This study has several threats to external validity because the results cannot necessarily be generalized to all testing situations. First, a school psychologist should not need to record students heart rate. Second, since there are so many combinations of colors and styles in attire, different effects upon arousal could result from those found with this study. This study is limited because it attempts to control only for navy-blue and white colors with conservative dressing style. Also, the results may not be generalizable to situations involving school psychologists of other ages, races, heights, and levels of physical attractiveness because only young, Caucasian confederates were used. The findings may not be generalizable to situations involving students in other parts of the country because culture and different socio-economic make-ups in other states may influence students' perceptions, as well.
One important threat to the internal validity of the study will be the lack of conformity in each school setting. This is a difficult variable to control because each of the schools will not have identical testing rooms, and this could influence the results.
Barak, A., Patkin, J., & Dell, D. M. (1982). Effects of counselor behaviors on perceived expertness and attractiveness. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 29, 261-267.
Bickman, L. (1974). Social roles and uniforms: Clothes make the person. Psychology Today, 32, 312-334.
Buck, S., & Tiene, D. (1989). The impact of physical attractiveness, gender, and teaching philosophy on teacher evaluations. Journal of Educational Research, 82, 172-177.
Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (1966). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Crisci, R., & Kassinove, H. (1973). Effect of perceived expertise, strength of advise, and environmental setting on parental compliance. Journal of Social Psychology, 89, 245-250.
Grimes, J. W., & Allinsmith, W. (1961). Compulsivity, anxiety, and school achievement. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 7, 247-271.
Hamid, P. N. (1968). Style of dress as a perceptual cue in impression formation. Perceptual Motor Skills, 26, 904-906.
Hebb, D. (1955). A reconsideration of the relationship between performance and arousal. The Journal of Psychology, 85, 213-231.
Irilli, J. P., Kehle, T. J., & Guidubaldi, J. (March, 1978). Students' expectations: Ratings of teacher performance as biased by teachers' physical attractiveness. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Association in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 155 216).
Johnson, B. J., Nagasawa, R. H., & Peters, K. (1977). Clothing style differences: Their effect on the impression of sociability. Home Economics Research Journal, 6(1), 58-63.
Kirk, S. A., Gallagher, James J., & Anastasiow, N. J. (1993). Educating exceptional children (7th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Mills, J., & Aronson, E. (1965). Opinion change as a function of the communicator's attractiveness and desire to influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 173-177.
Phillips, P. A., & Smith, L. R. (1992). The effect of teacher dress on student perceptions. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 347 151).
Roll, S. A. & Roll, B. M. (1984). Neophyte counselor attire and college student perceptions of expertness, trustworthiness, and attractiveness. Counselor Education and Supervision, 23, 321-327.
Rollman, S. A. (April, 1980). Some effects of teachers' styles of dress. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Speech Communication Association in Birmingham, AL. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 184 191).
Schmidt, L. D., & Strong, S. R. (1970). "Expert" and "inexpert" counselors. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 17, 115-118.
Stillman, S., & Harvey, R. (1972). Does counselor attire matter? Journal of Counseling Psychology, 19, 347-348.
Vargas, A. M., & Barkowski, J. G. (1982). Physical attractiveness and counseling skills. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 29, 246-255.
Washbourne, C., & Heil, M. (1960). What characteristics of teachers affect children's growth? The School Review, 4, 420-428.
Wasserman, T. & Kassinove, H. (1976). Effects of type of recommendation, attire, and perceived expertise on parental compliance. The Journal of Social Psychology, 99, 43-50.
Wong, L. (1990). A source of distractions in the classroom: The teacher. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 328 536).
Some Appendices Omitted by Instructor
Diagram of Automatic Digital Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor
by OMRON Model HEM-601
Diagram of Poster-Board Barrier
Data Recording Form
This word is . What does mean?
7. t.v. (or television)
"Hello child's first name. My name is Mr./Ms. Jones and I'm going to ask you a few questions today. It's okay if you don't know the answers to some of them but do try your best, okay?
First, I'm going to place this bracelet on your wrist so I can see your heart-rate." (Experimenter places bracelet on wrist.) "I'll let you wear it for a few minutes before we begin." Allow child to wear for two minutes before beginning. During this two minutes put your barrier in place and explain, "I'm going to put this board up here so this monitor doesn't distract you. (If the child asks what his/her heart-rate is, explain, "I'll let you know when we're done.")
Begin administering the test after five minutes. If a student remains silent for about 10 seconds following a question, say "Let's try another one" and proceed to the next item. Using the Stop Watch, every 30 seconds record the heart-rate reading. There is no need to administer items beyond the five minute recording time. (The number of items administered may vary for each subject.) Finally, thank the student for his or her participation.
Copyright © 2000, Bryan W. Griffin
Last revised on 09 October, 2009 10:52 PM