Giving your academic ego a boost can lead to higher marks


Welcome back from the midsem break! By now, you should have a good measure of how you’re going in your courses, and been exposed to the people who are “academically arrogant”. These are the people who nonchalantly brag their HD average, or complain that their latest mark of 76 might drag down their WAM to D level (shock, horror). While you might want to punch them in the face, you could learn a thing or two from them. No, I’m not going to tell you to study (like I did last year), but the “letting everyone know how good their WAM is” bit has some science behind it.

In a new study by psychologists in the United States, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,  researchers argue that boasting about academic achievement actually reflects how participants perform academically in the near future.

The researchers asked their undergrad participants what GPA they hoped to attain by graduation, or asking nothing at all, before asking them to report their current GPA.

Interestingly, the researchers found a trend in which students who were primed by being asked about a “GPA goal” and engaged in academic exaggeration (reported a higher GPA than they really got), actually had higher GPAs at the end of semester than the students who didn’t.

In psychology, priming involves exposing participants to a stimulus, which in turn affects their response to another stimulus. With respect to this study, half the students were primed for goal-achievement when they were asked what GPA they hoped to attain. Subconsciously, they kept this in mind throughout the semester and the students worked just that little bit harder to try and attain this goal. The exaggeration bit is important too, because while they might have fibbed a little, they’ve set a goal to get there (and beyond) anyway, and the brain went along with it. What’s interesting here is that this effect is NOT seen when students exaggerate about their GPA, but have no goal to back it up.

“When their goals are activated, some individuals tend to give themselves a psychological boost by inflating their reports of their current standing, this boost associated with better academic performance outcomes down the line,” the researchers say in the study. “Functional exaggeration does not amount to altering ones resume or lying to others about past achievements, but rather appears to reflect an internal motivation to achieve in the relevant domain”.

So what’s the take home message? The important part of this study is setting a goal for yourself and trying your hardest to achieve that goal. Every time that person brags about their WAM, they’re reminding themselves they have a WAM to actually maintain, and they probably work hard at it too. So you’ve currently got a WAM of 56 and you want to make it a 65? Perhaps you want to maintain your HD average? Set yourself that goal – and then actually try to fulfil it!