Gifted adolescents : social comparisons and changes in self- concept on entering a rigourous academic program in a residential environment

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Bullock, Rochelle Manor
Dixon, David N.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of Counseling Psychology and Guidance Services
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This study utilized a pluralistic approach to examine self-concepts and social comparison processes of students entering the Indiana Academy for Mathematics, Science, and Humanities-a residential program for high school juniors and seniors. Following the Big-Fish-Little-Pond-Effect (BFLPE) theory it was hypothesized that, as students compared themselves to a homogeneous, high-ability group, their academic self-concepts would decrease. Social self-concepts, however, were hypothesized to increase due to being with "equal peers."The Self Description Questionnaire III was used to measure students' academic and social self-concepts prior to arrival at the Indiana Academy, during the first week of the fall semester, and during the first week of the spring semester. Sixty-seven students participated in all three data collections.Repeated measures analysis indicated that academic self-concepts (Mathematics, Verbal, and Problem Solving) decreased dsignificantly from summer to fall to spring. Overall Academic self-concept decreased for all students between summer and fall, but only students with a history of prior rigorous education experienced a significant decrease from fall to spring.Analysis of social self-concept indicate that Opposite Sex Relationship scores did not change significantly over time. Same Sex Relationships, however, decreased significantly from fall to spring for students with a prior history of rigorous education.The second part of the study consisted of interviews with sixteen students. Interviews were conducted during the first two weeks and around the ninth week of the fall semester. Emerging from this data were four themes: No mention of social comparison processes; Recognition that the BFLPE already occurred; Recognition that the BFLPE would occur and mindset/cognition would change; and Recognition that the BFLPE would occur but no anticipation of change in self-concept was noted.Exploratory examination suggests the possibility of sex differences-only females failed to mention social comparisons, more females mentioned change in mindset or cognition, all but one of the students in the "No change anticipated" category were male. While both sexes were similarly affected by the change in social comparison and decrease in self-concepts, the qualitative data suggests that differences in thought processes may exist.