MARION – Whether it’s the class clown’s constant disruptions, running in the hallway, hormonal pre-teens caught in a lip lock, fighting, teasing, cell phone use, or passing notes in class, student misbehavior is not a new concept, in fact there is a great deal of research examining misbehavior. Recent research, however, focuses not just on teen behaviors, but on their beliefs about behaviors.

At The Ohio State University at Marion, a group of undergraduate students, primarily psychology majors, are assisting Associate Professor of Psychology, Chris Daddis in his research on teen’s judgments and justifications regarding school misbehavior. In other words, why is it okay or not okay to engage in various misbehaviors and, most importantly, why or why not? At present, Daddis and his students are in the second wave of this longitudinal study in Marion City Schools.

“In our current project, we are meeting with the students in their school; I have a team of undergraduate students assisting me in data collection on site,” Daddis said. “We have eight of them right now.”

“We meet with each student individually. First, the student participants complete a questionnaire, which is done on an iPad,” said Daddis. “Then, we present the participants with an interactive sorting task, and we finish with a short semi-clinical interview.

“Data collection takes a significant amount of time”, explained Daddis, “but the college students are more than prepared for the task.” To get this rich data, it does take a lot of work because we’re meeting with each student for about forty minutes each,” Daddis said. “The undergrads have to do a lot training and work with each other to learn how to present the material in such a way that all participants receive the same data collection experience.”

In describing the theoretical background of the study, Daddis stated, “Everyday moral decision making involves more than evaluating simple moral concerns – decisions actually are more complex and may include considerations of personal preference and/or social expectations. Accordingly, when we make judgments, we have to coordinate and weigh these often competing claims as we reason about the best course of action.”

Daddis provided an example of such a complex real world issue.

“People may disagree or agree with the claim that it is okay to smoke in public, but many of us justify our judgment using different types of reasoning. Some may emphasize moral concerns as they consider the harm intrinsic to second-hand smoke, while others may appeal to prudential concerns as they cite smoking’s potential for self-harm,” said Daddis.

According to Daddis, his research exists to help and inform people of how people coordinate various claims in making judgements and justifying our beliefs, but more specifically, the results from the present research can be employed to understand the reasons students obey or disobey the rules.

“We are studying misbehavior in school because it will help inform our understanding of natural moral development during this age period. There is a strong push for moral education in our schools. In fact, 80% of states mandate some sort of moral/character education. Most of the programs being employed, however, have been found to be ineffective,” he said. “At their very heart, in my opinion, the focus of existing programs is to socialize children into being obedient- they are trying to transmit an external morality into the children’s heads,” Daddis stated. “Unfortunately, this is not how social and moral development naturally occurs in children and adolescents. Children and teens should be judging moral and social decisions with more than a fear of getting into trouble. We want them to understand the best course of action, not because they want to avoid punishment, but because it is reasonable.”

Daddis explained that, adolescents are themselves active participants in the construction of their own moral understanding. Treating them as passive participates in their own development misses the point of natural moral development.

These students are just one group of many Ohio State Marion undergraduates who participate in faculty research.

“These students are members of our social-cognition lab,” Daddis said. “We meet regularly, do a lot of training and readings from the literature so they better understand what we’re doing.”

Daddis stressed that participation in faculty research is one of the most important opportunities offered at a research university like Ohio State. Not only should psychology students take advantage – all students should take advantage.

“Students can try it in one lab for research experience credit in each of the different disciplines. Many students go on for more than one semester. Some of them ultimately develop their work into thesis work,” Daddis explained.

For those entering psychology and other social science fields, students are encouraged to participate in research while pursuing their undergraduate degree. Not all colleges and universities offer students this opportunity, however, according to Daddis, learning to conduct scientific research is a crucial part of entering psychology and many other fields of social and behavioral science.

Staff report