Social encouragement from a group to join a lab
Alyssa M Hathaway UA ’18 and Jim Stellar
Alyssa is a student from diverse background from Plattsburgh who is in the Honors College and is a Psychology Major. Recently, when we had coffee, she mentioned that when she was a freshman last year, she experienced a social pressure to join a professor’s research laboratory – all of her friends had done so. Since she also wanted to go on to graduate school anyway, she readily yielded to this pressure and joined. Alyssa, can you describe this social pressure and anything your peers did to help you make the jump to working in a professor’s lab as an undergraduate researcher?
Well, when I came here I was not exactly sure what I wanted to do in regards to my undergraduate career or what I would do afterwards. I just knew that I wanted to get at least a Master’s degree in whatever I decide to go into. So as an incoming freshman I came in as an Informatics major, but changed my major throughout my freshman year several times. I finally settled on Psychology my first semester of my sophomore year and realized that all of my friends with intended Psychology majors in the honors college, all of whom I lived with, were already doing research in labs or looking into labs. I saw the initiative that was taken among my peers to reach out to faculty about these research assistant positions and found myself scrambling to find one just to feel on track with my peers.
Thanks. You are not in the vaunted Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) that also produces a social bonding between diverse students and therefore a positive academic a social pressure to succeed. For you the Honors program seems to have produced a similar positive group dynamic similarity. What do you think?
I would most definitely say there are similarities between the two programs. For instance, like EOP, the Honors College has a separate freshman orientation that takes place later in the summer. This was crucial for us to get to know everyone with whom we would be living for the remainder of the year since, like I said, we all lived with each other. The Honors College also has a unique sense of community since we are often taking the same honors courses, which are smaller in size than most introductory level classes. I would say the intimacy of the honors sections for these classes was what truly brought us all together.
The use of the word “separate” intrigues me. How much do you think it is important to separate groups to produce the group bonding? Of course, we also want them to interact positively.
I think that in order for bonding to occur, there needs to be shared obstacles or hardships in one form or another to find common ground with one another. Overcoming those obstacles together is what creates these strong bonds that you see in groups such as the honor’s college. One of these shared experiences would definitely be the classes that we’re required to have. I also see this kind of bonding in several groups on campus outside of the honors college such as in the Living Learning Communities (LLC). They’re structured very similarly to the Honors College in how they interact with each other since they’re also bound to have classes together if they’re in a LLC that is associated with a major and they’re also living with each other. This creates the perfect atmosphere to talk about the classes they’re in and learn from one another by forming convenient study sessions.
Great. The use of the phrase “intimacy in the honors section” three paragraphs above also intrigues me. Does “intimacy” so created simply result in bonding or is there more in your mind?
I believe that intimacy is probably the key component for this type of bonding experience. The larger a group is, the more difficult it is to learn from each other. Recognizing just how much you all have in common as far as short-term goals, long-term aspirations, and interests is not as easy when the space is not small enough for people to feel comfortable sharing. I think that in order for people to be open to intimacy, there need to be spaces that are conducive to a more discussion-driven environment, such as smaller class sizes and special interest residential halls.
What the above story illustrates is the power of the group, particularly the in-group. For example, research with the hormone oxytocin shows that treatment with this agent produces more sharing in a lot of experiments that we call neuroeconomic because often subjects are brain-scanned when they are exchanging money in some game. What is relevant here is that they are often more generous with members of the in-group, so that developing the in-group can have an effect on the individual of supporting them, even challenging them, to try new things or keep up.
Key to this outcome may be the in-group’s established set of expectations for one another that can translate into the group’s success as whole later on. What is great about student groups such as this is also the fact that there is no hierarchy here. Everyone is seen as equals from the start and the whole goal is to improve and grow together. In fact we think that this absence of a hierarchy may be an indicator of the group’s success in coming together and generating the resultant positive social pressure on the individuals within it.