The Effects of Negative Managerial Feedback on Student Motivation: Implications for Gender Differences in TeacherStudent Relations – Statistical Data Included
Carolyn Morgan 
Research suggests that boys receive more negative teacher feedback concerning failure to follow directions, whereas girls receive more positive feedback concerning compliance (e.g., J. Brophy, 1985;K. B. Hoyenga & K T Hoyenga, 1993). In this study, 5th and 6th graders (79.8% Caucasian, 9.2% Hispanic, 6.1% Asian, 2.2% Pacific Islander, and 1.8% African, predominantly lower middle class) were randomly assigned to receive 1 of 5 feedback patterns. All students received positive competence-related feedback. Relative to the other conditions, the typical “male” feedback pattern decreased students’ activity interest, perceived competence, and liking for the teacher. Students receiving typical “male” feedback reported less willingness to work with the teacher again; however, they did not report less willingness to work on the activity either alone or with a friend.
Teacher–student relations are an important factor influencing student motivation (see Wentzel, 1996). A pattern of increasing consistency in gender differences in teacher–student relations across grade level (e.g., Bracken & Grain, 1994; Leaper, 1991; Thorkildsen & Nicholls, 1998; Wentzel, 1998) suggests the possibility that these gender differences are at least partially an outcome of differential classroom socialization practices. The purpose of this study was to examine whether teachers may influence the development of gender differences in their relationships with girls and boys through gender-differentiated feedback patterns.
GENDER-DIFFERENTIATED MANAGERIAL FEEDBACK
A common feature of public school classrooms is teacher feedback focused on managing students’ behavior and work habits. Observational research indicates that teacher communication with students tends to be primarily negative, reactive, and focused on procedures rather than academic performance (e.g., Blumenfeld, Hamilton, Bossert, Wessels, & Meece, 1983; Eccies & Blumenfeld, 1985; White, 1975). These negative procedural communications have been described variously as reprimands, criticism, and disapproval focusing on students’ neatness, deportment, timeliness, compliance, attention, and work completion. In this paper, these procedural statements (both negative and positive) that are verbally transmitted by teachers will be referred to as “managerial feedback.”
Observational research indicates that managerial feedback is even more pervasive than competence-related feedback emphasizing students’ academic ability and performance (e.g., Blumenfeld et al., 1983; Eccies & Blumenfeld, 1985). Nevertheless, experimental research has focused primarily on identifying the effects of competence-related feedback rather than managerial feedback on students’ motivation (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 1987). In general, studies examining the effects of managerial feedback have focused on students’ level of immediate behavioral compliance with the feedback. For example, several studies have examined the effectiveness of reprimands in decreasing off-task behaviors (e.g., Abramowitz & O’Leary, 1990).
Although observational research indicates that the use of managerial feedback is ubiquitous, studies also indicate that, at all grade levels, teachers tend to give boys and girls different kinds of managerial feedback (Morgan, 1996, 1997). Relative to girls, boys are more likely to receive managerial feedback that is negative and that occurs while students are engaged in school activities (i.e., “on-line”). Girls are less likely than boys to receive managerial feedback. However, when they do receive managerial feedback, it is generally positive and received at the end of an activity (e.g., Baker, 1987; Brophy, 1985; Eccles & Blumenfeld, 1985; Foote, 1996; Hoyenga & Hoyenga, 1993; Jones & Wheatley, 1990; Sadker & Sadker, 1994).
Only one published study (Dweck, Davidson, Nelson, & Enna, 1978) has examined the effects of gender-differentiated feedback patterns on student outcomes. This study focused on the effects of gender differences in managerial feedback on intrapersonal (i.e., attributions for achievement outcomes) rather than interpersonal aspects of motivation. The lack of research examining the interpersonal effects of managerial feedback is surprising given that the process of giving and receiving feedback is inherently interpersonal. Furthermore, research indicates that interpersonal relations with teachers are powerful motivators of student behavior (Wentzel, 1996). For example, teacher-student relations may provide students with information about the self, afford emotional support, enhance intellectual functioning, and influence social goal pursuit (Wentzel, 1996).
If gender differences in receipt of managerial feedback influence students’ motivation and relations with teachers, then there should be evidence that these effects occur. Gender differences in teacher-student relations are generally less apparent in early grades (e.g., Leaper, 1991), emerge in elementary, middle, and junior high school and are fairly consistent by high school (Bracken & Crain, 1994; Simmons & Rosenberg, 1975; Vancouver & Ilgen, 1989). For example, 5th grade girls appear more motivated to please their teachers than are boys (Thorkildsen & Nicholls, 1998), and 6th grade girls perceive greater support from their teachers than do 6th grade boys (Wentzel, 1998). High school girls report more positive attitudes toward, and interactions with, their teachers (Baker, 1987; Bernard, Keefauver, Elsworth, & Naylor, 1981) and greater concern with pleasing their teachers (Miller, Greene, Montalvo, Ravindran, & Nicholls, 1996) than do boys. This pattern of increasing consistency in gender differences in s tudents’ motivation to work with teachers across grade level suggests that these gender differences are at least partially an outcome of differential socialization practices.
Lee and Gropper (1974) argued that gender-differentiated socialization in the classroom is one factor that leads boys to be less involved with teachers, more involved with peers, and more independent than girls are. However, these researchers did not attempt to isolate particular teacher-student interaction patterns that might create such gender differences in motivation and behavior. Grant (1985) observed that Black boys received more reprimands from teachers than did White boys, Black girls, or White girls. In addition, Black boys were less likely than other students to have positive contact with teachers and more likely to have contacts with peers. Though consistent with Lee and Gropper’s socialization hypothesis, these correlational data cannot assess the existence of a causal relationship between teacher feedback and differences in students’ motivation to work with teachers, peers, or alone.
Longstanding debates in education underscore the potential impact of gender differences in motivation within different interpersonal contexts. Some researchers hypothesize that girls’ more positive relations with teachers lead them to lower levels of intellectual curiosity, risk-taking, and initiative, as well as greater dependence on adult feedback relative to boys (Hoffman, 1972; Kimball, 1989; Lee & Gropper, 1974). Consistent with this position, Boggiano, Main, and Katz (1991) found that 4th through 6th grade girls were more extrinsically motivated than boys. In addition, girls who were extrinsically motivated reduced their willingness to engage in a challenging task after receiving adult feedback; however, this was not the case among extrinsically motivated boys. In contrast, other researchers have argued that boys’ lower involvement with teachers relative to girls leads to more asocial classroom behavior, disinterest in school, and higher dropout rates (Pittman, 1991; Trusty & Dooley-Dickey, 1993). Cons istent with this position, Wentzel (1998) found that 6th grade girls perceived greater teacher support than did 6th grade boys. Perceived teacher support was a positive predictor of school interest, with girls reporting greater school interest relative to boys.
EXAMINING THE EFFECTS OF MANAGERIAL FEEDBACK ON MOTIVATION
The effects of competence-related feedback on students’ interest and motivation have been examined extensively by intrinsic motivation researchers (e.g., Deci, 1972; Deci & Ryan, 1987; Kast & Connor, 1988; Koestner, Zuckerman, & Koestner, 1987). Their findings can serve as a guide for exploring the effects of managerial feedback. According to cognitive evaluation theory, feedback varies along the dimensions of controllingness and valence (Deci & Ryan, 1987). The controllingness and valence of feedback messages affect individuals’ interest in an activity as well as their motivation to engage in the activity in the future.
Effects of Managerial Feedback on Interest and Perceived Competence
Competence-related feedback perceived as controlling induces people to act in particular ways or attain specified outcomes. In turn, this pressure to perform results in reduced motivation to engage in the activity (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 1987). The degree to which feedback is perceived as controlling may vary as a function of the amount and timing of feedback given during an activity. For example, an overall performance goal provided as subgoals during an activity results in less interest than the same overall goal provided only at the beginning of an activity. Thus, providing goals during performance may make the controlling nature of the goals more salient (Harackiewicz, Manderlink, & Sansone, 1984).
The valence of competence-related feedback also may affect motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1987; Sansone, Sachau, & Weir, 1989). Positive competence feedback may either enhance or reduce motivation as a function of its perceived controllingness. Positive competence feedback perceived as controlling tends to reduce motivation, whereas positive competence feedback perceived as informational tends to enhance motivation (Kast & Connor, 1988). In contrast, negative competence feedback leads to lower motivation, regardless of whether it is presented as controlling or not, because of its detrimental effects on perceived ability (Deci & Ryan, 1987).
The managerial feedback boys and girls typically receive differs in both controllingness and valence. Boys receive more managerial feedback that is negative and highly salient throughout the work process. Indeed, the typical “male” feedback pattern has been described as an overt attempt at controlling and managing boys’ behavior during the work process (Eccles & Blumenfeld, 1985). In contrast, girls are more likely to receive either positive managerial feedback or competence feedback only (Dweck et al., 1978). Because the feedback girls typically receive occurs at the end of the work process, these two typical “female” feedback patterns are likely to be perceived as relatively less controlling than the typical “male” feedback pattern.
To date, research has not examined whether these gender-differentiated patterns of managerial feedback produce effects on interest, perceived competence, and subsequent motivation similar to the effects found for competence-related feedback. If students perceive managerial feedback to be indicative of their performance, then the typical “male” feedback pattern may decrease interest, perceived competence, and subsequent motivation relative to the typical “female” feedback patterns. However, Dweck et al. (1978) found that negative managerial feedback ameliorated rather than exacerbated the effects of negative competence-related feedback on 5th graders’ perceived competence, thus suggesting that negative managerial feedback may not necessarily be detrimental to students’ motivation.
Furthermore, the effects of managerial feedback valence on motivation may vary by gender. Research concerning the valence of competence-related feedback indicates that males’ motivation tends to increase after receiving positive competence feedback, whereas females’ motivation sometimes decreases (Deci & Ryan, 1987; Koestner et al., 1987). These researchers suggest that, because of differences in gender socialization, females may be more sensitive to attempts to control their behavior. Thus, for females, the controllingness of positive competence feedback may be more salient than the information the feedback provides. Whether males and females respond similarly to positive managerial feedback is presently not known.
Effects of Feedback on Motivation for Future Activity Engagement in Different Contexts
Although traditional research on intrinsic motivation offers considerable insight into the potential effects of managerial feedback on students’ interest and motivation, such approaches have certain limitations. These studies (e.g., Deci, Cascio, & Krussell, 1973) have tended to focus on how objective characteristics of activities, contexts, or individuals (e.g., difficulty level, receipt of feedback, initial interest level) influence individuals’ subsequent interest and motivation. In these studies, the activity itself (e.g, solving puzzles) is presumed to remain constant. Therefore, individuals’ subsequent motivation to engage in the activity within different interpersonal contexts has not been examined.
Other research (Sansone & Berg, 1993; Sansone & Harackiewicz, 1996; Sansone & Morgan, 1992) suggests that the manner in which individuals define an activity may be flexible (e.g., as work, as play with a friend). Individuals’ activity definitions may change over time as a function of their own actions (Sansone, Weir, Harpster, & Morgan, 1992) and the feedback they receive (Sansone, Sachau, & Weir, 1989). If individuals have different experiences while engaged in the same activity, their definitions of that activity are likely to differ also. In turn, as their activity definitions change, factors influencing their motivation are likely to change as well.
This perspective suggests that students’ subsequent motivation to engage in an activity may be affected by feedback patterns; however, the interpersonal context of future engagement may be an important determinant of those effects. When the future interpersonal context is unspecified, as typically occurs in research that assumes a “constant” activity definition, students may base their decisions concerning future engagement on the context they just experienced. Thus, students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern may express less willingness to engage in the activity in the future than students receiving the relatively less controlling “female” feedback patterns. In contrast, when potential future interpersonal contexts are differentiated, differentiation in students’ motivation may be seen as well. Specifically, students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern may express less willingness to work on the activity with the teacher than students receiving typical “female” feedback. However, these students may not express less willingness to work on the activity either alone or with a friend. Thus, the typical “male” feedback pattern may not disrupt motivation entirely, but rather lead to a pattern of motivation that is distinct from the effects of the typical “female” feedback patterns.
Effects of Managerial Feedback on Students’ Goals
Managerial feedback may affect not only students’ motivation but also their goals while working with the teacher. Two types of interpersonal goals important to academic achievement are interdependence goals and independence goals. Interdependence goals include goals to cooperate, affiliate, and gain social approval (Wentzel, 1989), whereas independence goals include goals to act on one’s own and to assert oneself (Grieb & Easley, 1984). Two types of competence goals important to academic achievement are learning goals and performance goals (Sansone & Harackiewicz, 1996). Learning goals involve skill development and improvement relative to one’s own internal standards, whereas performance goals involve the demonstration of ability relative to others.
There are several ways that managerial feedback may influence students’ goals. The typical “male” feedback pattern, which is likely to be perceived as controlling, may increase student reactance (Brehm & Brehm, 1981). That is, in response to controlling feedback, students may become defiant or noncompliant in an attempt to restore their freedom (Morgan, 2000). Such resistance motivation may be associated with increases in students’ pursuit of independence goals (e.g., wanting to do the activity on their own) and decreases in their pursuit of interdependence goals (e.g. wanting to gain approval from the teacher). Managerial feedback may indirectly affect students’ competence goals as well. If students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern are less concerned with interdependence goals and more concerned with independence goals, then they may focus more on achieving their own internal standards for success (i.e., learning goals) than on demonstrating their ability relative to others (i.e., performance go als).
Participants were 54 male and 73 female 5th grade students (Mean age = 10.3 years) and 50 male and 50 female 6th grade students (Mean age = 11.3 years). This age range was selected to be comparable with existing research examining the effects of gender differences in teacher feedback (Dweck et al., 1978). Whether gender differences in students’ competence and interpersonal goals would be apparent in this age group was unknown. Students were recruited from year-round public elementary schools in an urban area of a western state. The ethnic composition of the sample was representative of the school district (79.8% Caucasian, 9.2% Hispanic, 6.1% Asian, 2.2% Pacific Islander, and 1.8% African). The socioeconomic status of students in participating schools was predominantly lower middle class.
Because negative managerial feedback and deception were used in this research, certain safeguards were instituted. Clinical, developmental, and social psychologists were consulted during the development of the specific feedback statements used and IRB approval was obtained. Letters regarding the study were sent to parents and only students returning signed parental consent forms were allowed to participate (Mean participation rate = 49.6%).
Parents, teachers, and school administrators were informed of the nature of the study but were asked not to discuss the study with students until after students had participated. Prior to their participation, students’ written consent was obtained. Students were told that participation was voluntary and that they could quit the study at any time. Students also were told that their participation in the study would not affect their regular classroom grades in any way and that their regular teachers would not be told anything about their performance in the study.
At the end of the teacher–student interaction, all students were given positive competence feedback indicating that they had “shown improvement” (i.e., a learning goal) and that they had “performed better than the average 5th (or 6th) grader” (i.e., a performance goal). At the end of the study, students receiving negative managerial feedback were debriefed. Interviews with students during pilot testing indicated that they understood the nature and rationale for the deception used in this study. On the day of their participation, students were given a letter to take home reminding parents of the study, informing them that their child had participated that day, and including a phone number if they or their child had any questions about the study. No concerns about the study were raised. At the conclusion of the study, students received a thank-you note indicating that they had done well on the project and a small gift for their help.
Using classroom observation research as a guide, experimental analogs of the typical “male” and “female” feedback patterns were created. As illustrated in Fig. 1, five different feedback patterns were examined. All students received positive competence feedback at the conclusion of the activity. Thus, any obtained differences in students’ interest and subsequent motivation were attributable to differences in the receipt of managerial feedback.
To determine whether girls and boys respond differently to controlling feedback as a function of valence, the typical “male” feedback pattern and the typical “female” pattern involving managerial feedback were administered using the opposite valence of that generally given. If boys and girls are equally sensitive to the controllingness of feedback, then the typical “male” feedback pattern and the “male” feedback pattern with positive valence should diminish interest and perceived competence relative to the less controlling “female” feedback patterns for both genders. However, if girls are more sensitive to the controllingness of positive feedback relative to boys, then only boys should respond differently to the controlling feedback as a function of valence. Thus, boys should report less interest and lower perceived competence after receiving negative controlling feedback but not after receiving positive controlling feedback. Boys and girls should report similar interest and perceived competence after receiv ing the relatively less controlling “female” feedback patterns. Similarly, if girls and boys differ in sensitivity to controlling feedback, then only boys should display differences in the degree of motivational differentiation as a function of the valence of the typical “male” feedback pattern. In contrast, girls should display similar degrees of differentiation after receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern or the typical “male” pattern with positive valence.
Students were blocked on gender and randomly assigned to one of the five feedback conditions. Random assignment of feedback was necessary to examine the influence of managerial feedback independent of student behavior. Although receipt of random feedback may seem relatively unlikely to occur in actual classrooms, in reality, it is not uncommon for teachers to give feedback when it is not appropriate and to not give it when it is appropriate (e.g., Acker & O’Leary, 1988; Nafpaktitis, Mayer, & Butterworth, 1985).
The study took place in unoccupied classrooms at the students’ schools. Students were run individually through the experimental procedure by trained undergraduate research assistants. A research assistant acting as the experimenter informed the student that he or she would be working with a “student teacher” (in reality, another research assistant) on a project concerning an imaginary trip to a foreign country. A social studies project was used because research has indicated that school projects are a salient activity for students within the school domain (Berg, Strough, Calderone, Meegan, & Sansone, 1997; Sansone & Morgan, 1992). Furthermore, social studies is an accepted part of the upper elementary school curriculum; therefore, such an activity was presumed to have high ecological validity.
After ensuring that the student understood the meaning of “student teacher,” the experimenter briefly described the project. The student was told that he or she would select one of five file boxes labeled with the names of different countries. Inside the file box, the student would find maps, brochures, and information sheets pertaining to that country. The student was then told that he or she would work on three exercises. The first exercise involved planning what was needed for the trip. The second exercise involved writing as many English questions and sentences that might be important to know how to say in the country’s primary language. The third exercise involved planning activities for a 5-day trip.
After this introduction, the experimenter explained that the travel project was a new activity developed by teachers from a nearby university for students in the 5th (or 6th) grade. The experimenter further explained that teachers at the university were interested in knowing what 5th (or 6th) grade students thought of this new project so that they could decide whether to use the project with other students in the future. Therefore, the student was told, after he or she had finished the project, the experimenter would return and ask the student some questions about his or her experiences with the travel project. To enhance the interpersonal nature of the upcoming interaction, the experimenter then mentioned that the student teacher might be coming to the student’s school in the near future to do his or her student teaching. Thus, it was possible that the student might get to work with the student teacher again in his or her regular classroom.
The student was then introduced to a same-gender research assistant. Ideally, teacher gender would have been examined as an independent variable. However, the primary focus of the study was to examine the influence of specific patterns of managerial feedback on motivation rather than the effects of teacher gender. Because the majority of elementary teachers are female, it was assumed that boys have received less negative feedback from male teachers than from female teachers. Therefore, girls’ and boys’ histories of receiving negative managerial feedback were assumed to be more similar when boys worked with male teachers.
After the experimenter left, the student teacher continued the introduction. To further enhance the perceived potential for future interaction, the student teacher repeated that he or she might be working in the student’s regular classroom in the near future. Then, the student teacher reviewed the exercises with the student and asked the student to select a country.
After returning to the desk with the appropriate file box, the student was allowed to examine the materials for 2 min. Then, the teacher gave the student the first exercise and asked the student to write his or her name at the top of the page. The teacher read the instructions aloud and informed the student that he or she had “about 10 min” to work on the exercise and that he or she would tell the student when it was time to turn in the exercise.
As the student turned in each exercise, the student teacher visually examined the student’s work and gave feedback appropriate to the experimental condition. All feedback statements were delivered in a low volume voice with slight inflection and either a brief nod or shake of the head. This means of feedback conveyance is consistent with research indicating that the degree of affectivity displayed by teachers tends to be slight (Blumenfeld et al., 1983).
Students receiving positive or negative managerial feedback after each exercise received the following three messages: (1) “You are (not) writing neatly”; (2) “You are (not) keeping your work area organized”; and (3) “You are (not) working in an orderly manner.” Students receiving managerial feedback at the end of the activity heard only the third feedback message at the appropriate time. These feedback statements were constructed to represent typical forms of teachers’ managerial statements identified in previous research rather than any specific criticism or reprimand. Piloting indicated that students interpreted the negative managerial feedback as indicating that they were “not being neat enough,” “not writing good,” “not organized,” “not keeping work together,” “being messy,” “not following directions,” “being rude,” or “misbehaving.” All of these interpretations are consistent with the negative managerial feedback category. As indicated previously, all students received positive competence feedback at th e conclusion of the activity. Specifically, students were told that they “showed improvement on the three exercises” (mastery feedback) and that their grade on the entire project would be “somewhat better than the average 5th (or 6th) grade student” (performance feedback).
After feedback was given, the teacher left the classroom. To reemphasize the possibility of future interaction, as the teacher was leaving, he or she said goodbye to the student and commented that “maybe we’ll be seeing each other again in a few weeks.”
At this point, the experimenter returned and interviewed the student. An interview was used rather than a self-report questionnaire because of variability in students’ reading skills and attentiveness. The experimenter was blind to the student’s feedback condition and the hypotheses of the study at the time of the interview. At the beginning of the interview, the experimenter assured the student that his or her responses would be confidential and that the student’s name would not be on the questionnaire. In addition, the student was told that he or she would place the completed questionnaire in a large pile of other students’ questionnaires, so that his or her responses would be unidentifiable. After the interview was completed, the student was debriefed.
Assessment of Interest, Perceived Competence, and Liking for the Teacher
Five-point Likert scale questions were used to assess students’ interest while engaged in the activity, perceived competence, and liking for the teacher. Items assessing students’ interest included the following: “How interesting was the social studies project?” and “How much did you enjoy working on the social studies project?” (r = .58). These two items were averaged to obtain a mean interest score. To assess perceived competence, students were asked “How well do you think you did on the social studies project?” To measure their liking for the teacher, students were asked “How well did you like Ms./Mr._____, your teacher during the project?”
Assessment of Motivation for Future Activity Engagement
Students’ motivation for future activity engagement was assessed through a series of four 5-point Likert scale questions. First, students were asked how willing they would be to work on the social studies project again in the future. This question reflects the traditional approach of research concerning the effects of controlling feedback on motivation that has not addressed the possibility that motivation may be diminished in some contexts but maintained in others. To examine the possibility of differentiation in motivation in response to controlling feedback, students were asked three questions concerning their willingness to engage in the activity in the future under the following conditions: with the teacher, with a friend, and by themselves.
Assessment of Students’ Goals
Students’ retrospective reports of their interdependence, independence, learning, and performance goals while working on the project were assessed using two 5-point Likert scale questions for each goal type (1 being not at all true and 5 being very much true). Items for these scales were derived from previous work on students’ goals (Nicholls, Cheung, Lauer, & Patashnik, 1989; Wentzel, 1989, 1998). The two items assessing students’ interdependence goals were “You wanted to make the teacher happy by doing good work” and “You wanted the teacher to be proud of you.” The two items assessing students’ independence goals were “You wanted to work on your own” and “You wanted to do the work without the teacher’s help.” The two items assessing students’ mastery goals were “You wanted to learn as much as possible” and “You wanted to learn something new.” The two items assessing students’ performance goals were “You wanted to know how your work compared with other students” and “You wanted to do better than everyone els e.” Intercorrelations among the goal items are displayed in Table I.
Effects of Feedback on Interest, Perceived Competence, and Liking for the Teacher
The effects of feedback pattern and student gender on students’ interest were examined using a 5 (Feedback condition) x 2 (Student gender) analysis of variance (ANOVA). There was a significant main effect of feedback condition on students’ interest, F (4, 218) = 3.02, p [less than] .05, [eta.sup.2] = .23. As shown in Table II, post hoc protected t tests indicated that students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported significantly less interest while working on the project than students receiving the typical “female” pattern of competence feedback only, t(1,218) = 2.75, p[less than].05, and students receiving the typical “female” pattern of managerial and competence feedback at the end of the activity, t(1,218) = 3.89, p[less than].05. Furthermore, students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported significantly less interest than students receiving the “male” pattern with opposite valence, t(1,218) = 4.46, p[less than].05. In contrast, students receiving the typical “female” feedba ck pattern of both managerial feedback and competence feedback at the end of the activity did not differ in interest from students receiving its opposite-valenced counterpart. No main effect of gender or interaction of gender and feedback was indicated.
A 5 (Feedback condition) x 2 (Student gender) ANOVA on students’ perceived competence indicated a significant main effect of feedback condition, F(4,219) = 6.64, p[less than].001, [eta.sup.2] = .32. As shown in Table II, protected t tests indicated that students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported that they had performed significantly less well on the project than students receiving the “female” patterns of competence feedback only, t(1,219) = 4.32, p[less than].05, and managerial and competence feedback at the end of the activity, t(1,219) = 2.47, p[less than].05. In addition, students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported lower perceived competence than students receiving the “male” pattern with opposite valence, t(1,219) = 4.32, p[less than].05. Once again, students receiving the “female” pattern of managerial and competence feedback at the end of the activity did not differ from students receiving the “female” pattern with opposite valence. No effects involving gender w ere indicated.
A 5 (Feedback condition) x 2 (Student gender) ANOVA on students’ liking for the teacher revealed a significant main effect of feedback condition, F(4,219) = 6.79, p[less than].001 [eta/sup.2] =.33. As shown in Table I, protected t tests indicated that students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported liking the teacher significantly less than students receiving the typical “female” pattern of competence feedback only, t(1,219) = 6.39, p[less than].05, and students receiving the typical “female” pattern of positive managerial feedback and competence feedback at the end of the activity, t(1,219) = 5.94, p[less than].05. Similar to the results for interest scores, students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported significantly less liking for the teacher than did students in the “male” pattern with opposite valence condition, t(1,219) = 5.22, p[less than].05. In contrast, students receiving the “female” pattern of managerial and competence feedback at the end of the activity did not d iffer significantly from students receiving the “female” pattern with opposite valence. No effects involving gender were indicated.
Effects of Feedback on Future Activity Engagement
The primary aim of the study was to determine whether differences in the feedback girls and boys typically receive could create differences in their motivation toward future activity engagement as a function of differences in interpersonal context. The effects of feedback pattern and student gender on students’ motivation for future activity engagement were examined using a 5 (Feedback pattern) x 2 (Student gender) x 4 (Interpersonal context of activity engagement: unspecified, with teacher, with friend, and alone) repeated-measures ANOVA, with the within-subjects factor being interpersonal context.
This analysis revealed a significant main effect of interpersonal context, F(3, 657) = 117.28, p [less than] .001 [eta.sup.2] = .33. Protected t tests indicated that students reported significantly less willingness to work on the activity in the future by themselves (M = 3.10) than with the teacher (M = 4.22), with a friend (M = 4.42), or in the unspecified-interpersonal context condition, M = 4.30, ts (1, 657) = 14.05, 16.47, and 15.00, p [less than] .001, respectively for teacher/alone, friend/alone, and unspecified context/alone comparisons. In addition, students reported being more willing to work on the project again with a friend than with the teacher, t(1, 657) = 2.42, p [less than] .05.
As illustrated in Table III, however, this main effect of interpersonal context was qualified by a significant interaction with feedback pattern, F(12, 657) = 2.18, p = .01, [eta.sup.2] = .03. Protected t tests indicated that motivation for future activity engagement matched the results for students’ interest scores only in certain contexts (i.e., when the interpersonal context was unspecified and when it was specified as including the teacher). Specifically, within the unspecified interpersonal context condition, students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported being significantly less willing to work on the project again than students receiving the “female” feedback patterns of competence feedback only at the end, t(1, 657) = 3.32, p [less than] .05, and both positive managerial feedback and competence feedback at the end of the activity, t(1, 657) = 3.02, p [less than] .05. In addition, students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported less willingness to work on the project ag ain than students receiving the “male” pattern with opposite valence, t(1, 657) = 3.63. Students receiving the “female” feedback pattern of managerial and competence feedback at the end did not differ from students receiving the “female” pattern with negative valence.
Similarly, post hoc comparisons within the teacher-specified context indicated that students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported being significantly less willing to work on the project again with the teacher than students receiving the “female” patterns of competence feedback only, t(1, 657) = 3.44, p [less than] .05, and positive managerial and competence feedback at the conclusion of the activity, t(1, 657) = 3.14, p [less than] .05. Students receiving the typical “male” pattern also reported significantly less willingness to work with the teacher again than did students receiving the “male” pattern with positive valence, t(1, 657) = 2.55, p [less than] .05. Students receiving the “female” pattern of managerial and competence feedback at the end did not differ from students receiving the “female” feedback pattern with negative valence.
In contrast, protected t tests within the alone-specified context indicated no significant effects of feedback condition. Similarly, comparisons within the friend-specified context revealed no significant effects of feedback condition.
Finally, within the typical “male” feedback pattern condition, protected t tests comparing the teacher-specified context with the friend-specified context revealed that these students were significantly less willing to work on the project again with the teacher than with a friend, t(1, 657) = 3.50, p [less than] .05. In contrast, this differentiation of the teacher-specified and friend-specified contexts was not significant for students receiving the “female” patterns of feedback or students receiving the “male” feedback pattern with positive valence.
Effects of Feedback on Students’ Goals
The effects of feedback pattern and student gender on students’ retrospective reports of their competence and interpersonal goals while working on the activity were examined using eight 5 (Feedback condition) X 2 (Student gender) ANOVAs. No main effects or interactions between feedback pattern and student gender were obtained for any of the goal scales. Thus, neither feedback pattern, student gender, nor their interaction affected what students reported wanting to accomplish during the activity. Means and standard deviations for the eight goal items are presented in Table IV.
The results suggest that gender-differentiated managerial feedback patterns may influence teacher–student relations. Within the context of a brief teacher–student interaction, boys and girls receiving feedback similar to that which boys typically receive reported less interest in the activity, lower perceived competence, and less liking for the teacher than students receiving feedback similar to that which girls typically receive. These effects were evident even though all students received identical positive competence-related feedback at the end of the activity.
Given this more negative experience for students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern, decreases in students’ motivation toward future activity engagement would be expected. For example, studies examining students’ responses to controlling feedback have indicated that after receiving feedback designed to control their behavior, students are less motivated to engage in a similar activity during a free-choice period (e.g., Deci, 1972; Kast & Connor, 1988). However, this effect does not entirely fit with research concerning gender differences in students’ motivation toward school. Boys, who generally receive more negative and controlling feedback than girls do, are not, in general, less motivated to achieve in school. In fact, boys can and do perform as well in school as girls in many ways. For example, boys tend to score as high as girls on many standardized achievement tests (Jacklin, 1989; Kimura, 1992) and measures of school self-concept and self-esteem (Alpert-Gillis & Connell, 1989; Harter, 1982), and have been found to score higher on scales of intrinsic motivation (Boggiano et al., 1991). In addition, boys are sometimes perceived as more independent and autonomous in their work and thinking than girls are (Grieb & Easley, 1984).
The present results may help us understand such paradoxical findings. The typical “male” feedback pattern may not lead to a general lack of interest in working on an activity in the future relative to the typical “female” feedback patterns, but rather lead to greater differentiation in the contexts reported desirable for future activity engagement. In this study, all students reported greater willingness to work on the activity again in interpersonal contexts than alone. However, students receiving the typical “male” feedback pattern reported less willingness to work on the activity again than students receiving the typical “female” feedback patterns and the “male” feedback pattern with positive valence. Similar results were obtained when students were asked how willing they would be to work on the project again with the teacher. Thus, these students appeared to define the activity as involving the teacher even when teacher involvement was not explicit. Furthermore, this negative teacher involvement seemed t o reduce subsequent motivation toward the activity.
In contrast, when students were asked about their willingness to work on the activity again with a friend or by themselves no effects of teacher feedback were evident. Thus, for students in the typical “male” feedback condition, the relatively more negative experience while working with the teacher did not generalize to activity engagement in other contexts. This suggests an important addendum to cognitive evaluation theory (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 1987): controlling feedback may be detrimental to motivation only when the teacher (or other conveyor of feedback) is a part of how students define the activity. Over time, gender-differentiated teacher feedback patterns may alter students’ expectations for future interactions, leading male students to less involvement in teacher-centered activities and more involvement in peer-oriented and independent activities relative to girls. Observational research examining teacher feedback patterns (e.g., Brophy, 1985; Hoyenga & Hoyenga, 1993) suggests that gender differences i n students’ expectations for teacher-student interactions are likely to be well-founded.
Contrary to research indicating gender differences in sensitivity to controlling feedback (e.g., Deci, 1972; Kast & Connor, 1988), student gender did not interact with feedback pattern in affecting students’ motivation. Specifically, for both girls and boys, the typical “male” feedback pattern resulted in greater decrements to students’ interest, perceived competence, liking for the teacher, and willingness to engage with the teacher than did the typical “male” feedback pattern with positive valence. Thus, positive managerial feedback presented in a controlling manner did not have the same effect on motivation as negative controlling feedback, and girls and boys reacted similarly to both feedback patterns. In addition, the typical “female” pattern of positive managerial feedback and competence feedback at the end of the activity and the “female” feedback pattern with negative valence did not differentially affect students’ motivation.
Although these results are informative, the study was limited in a number of ways. In order to examine the causal relationship between teacher feedback and student motivation, feedback was given in the context of a controlled one-on-one interaction. In contrast, teachers typically give individual students feedback within the classroom context (e.g., Blumenfeld et al., 1983; Eccles & Blumenfeld, 1985). Giving managerial feedback privately as opposed to publicly may have different effects on student motivation. Furthermore, to insure that any obtained differences in motivation could be attributed to the effects of the feedback, all students in the present study received positive competence feedback at the end of the activity. However, in typical classroom situations, some students are likely to receive negative managerial feedback in other feedback contexts (e.g., with no competence feedback or with negative competence feedback). Interestingly, Dweck et al. (1978) found that negative managerial feedback combine d with negative competence feedback was less detrimental to students’ performance attributions than negative competence feedback alone. It is possible, however, that this same pattern of negative managerial feedback and negative competence feedback would have different effects on subsequent teacher-student interactions.
In this study, results concerning feedback effects on students’ competence and interpersonal goals were not as predicted. Specifically, students’ retrospective reports of their interpersonal and competence goals during the activity were not influenced by the feedback they received from a same-gender teacher. In addition, no effects of student gender or interactions between student gender and feedback pattern on students’ goals were evident. However, given that negative managerial feedback decreased students’ reported willingness to work with the teacher again, it is likely that such feedback might influence students’ goals for future teacher-student interactions. Indeed, ongoing research (Morgan, 2001) suggests that negative managerial feedback may interact with student gender to influence fifth graders’ competence and interpersonal goals for future interactions with a female teacher. These findings also suggest the need to examine the impact of teacher gender on students’ responses to managerial feedback.
If the results of this study are replicable, they may support a social-psychological explanation for why boys are less concerned with teacher approval (Boggiano et al., 1991), less motivated to please teachers (Miller et al., 1996; Thorkildsen & Nicholls, 1998), less likely to perceive support from teachers (Wentzel, 1998), and less likely to have positive relations with teachers (Baker, 1987) relative to girls. In addition, these results may help explain certain observed ethnic differences in student motivation and behavior. For example, in one elementary classroom study, Grant (1985) observed that Black boys received more negative managerial feedback than Black girls, White boys, or White girls. In addition, the incidence of noncompliant behavior and the ratio of peer interactions to teacher interactions were higher for Black boys than for other students. Research using a social-psychological approach and combining experimental and observational techniques (e.g., Arnold, McWilliams, & Arnold, 1998; Lytton & Zwirner, 1975) may be helpful in clarifying the causal relations that exist among these variables.
In summary, the results of this initial study suggest that negative managerial feedback similar to that which boys typically receive in the classroom may create subtle differences in student motivation over and beyond preexisting motivational and behavioral differences. In particular, motivation toward interaction with the teacher and motivation toward the activity may become differentiated over time because of the feedback students receive. The possibility that teachers may inadvertently promote differential motivation for teacher-centered, peer-centered, and independent learning through fairly innocuous feedback given in the classroom suggests the need for greater awareness of the potential consequences of these actions.
This research was supported by an Eccles Fellowship for Public Policy Research from the University of Utah and a research grant from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. The study was completed as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD at the University of Utah. I thank my advisor Carol Sansone and committee members Fred Rhodewalt, Cindy Berg, Carol Werner, and Deb Wiebe for their support. In addition, I thank Sharon Cheney, Tiffany Ford, Paige Haslam, Paul Gilbert, and Wei-Chin Hwang for their help in planning, piloting, and data collection. Most importantly, I thank all of the students, parents, teachers, and school administrators who supported this research.
(1.) To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, 800 W. Main Street, Whitewater, Wisconsin 53190; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Table I. Intercorrelations Among Goal Items
Goal item 2 3 4 5 6
Make Teacher Proud .64 [**] .00 .00 .47 [**] .49 [**]
Make Teacher Happy .06 .12 .39 [**] .41 [**]
Do Work Without Help .36 [**] .08 .00
Do Work On Own .04 .05
Learn As Much as Possible .53 [**]
Learn Something New
Compared to Others
Better Than Others
Goal item 7 8
Make Teacher Proud .20 [**] .34 [**]
Make Teacher Happy .16 [*] .35 [**]
Do Work Without Help .01 .15 [*]
Do Work On Own .04 .15 [*]
Learn As Much as Possible .19 [**] .36 [**]
Learn Something New .26 [**] .47 [**]
Compared to Others .29 [**]
Better Than Others
Note. N = 229.
(*)p [less than] .05.
(**)p [less than] .01.
Table II. Effects of Managerial Feedback on Students’ Activity
Interest, Perceived Competence, and Liking for the Teacher Giving
Feedback condition interest
No managerial feedback [4.34.sup.b] (0.69)
(Typical “female” pattern I)
Negative managerial feedback [4.05.sup.a] (0.81)
(Typical “male” pattern)
Positive managerial feedback [4.52.sup.b] (0.63)
Positive managerial at end only [4.46.sup.b] (0.67)
(Typical “female” pattern II)
Negative managerial feedback [4.25.sup.ab] (0.74)
at end only
Feedback condition competence
No managerial feedback [4.21.sup.b] (0.71)
(Typical “female” pattern I)
Negative managerial feedback [3.51.sup.a] (0.86)
(Typical “male” pattern)
Positive managerial feedback [4.21.sup.b] (0.71)
Positive managerial at end only [3.91.sup.b] (0.72)
(Typical “female” pattern II)
Negative managerial feedback [3.82.sup.ab] (0.87)
at end only
Feedback condition teacher
No managerial feedback [4.69.sup.b] (0.59)
(Typical “female” pattern I)
Negative managerial feedback [3.98.sup.a] (094)
(Typical “male” pattern)
Positive managerial feedback [4.56.sup.b] (0.73)
Positive managerial at end only [4.64.sup.b] (0.64)
(Typical “female” pattern II)
Negative managerial feedback [4.45.sup.b] (0.82)
at end only
Note. N = 229. Students’ activity interest, perceived competence,
and liking for the teacher were assessed using 5-point Likert-type
scale items with 1 being not at all and 5 being definitely. Within
columns, means with different superscripts differ at
p [less than] .05. Standard deviations are indicated in parentheses.
Table III. Effects of Managerial Feedback on Students’ Willingness to
Engage in the Activity in the Future in Various Interpersonal Contexts
Feedback condition None
No managerial feedback [4.45.sup.b] (0.79)
(Typical “female” pattern I)
Negative managerial feedback [3.88.sup.a] (1.18)
(Typical “male” pattern)
Positive managerial feedback [4.50.sup.b] (0.71)
Positive managerial at end only [4.42.sup.b] (0.77)
(Typical “female” pattern II)
Negative managerial feedback [4.25.sup.ab] (0.99)
at end only
Feedback condition Teacher Friend
No managerial feedback [4.43.sup.b] (0.79) 4.41 (0.88)
(Typical “female” pattern I)
Negative managerial feedback [3.85.sup.a] (1.16) 4.46 (0.71)
(Typical “male” pattern)
Positive managerial feedback [4.27.sup.b] (0.89) 4.30 (1.00)
Positive managerial at end only [4.37.sup.b] (0.90) 4.45 (0.86)
(Typical “female” pattern II)
Negative managerial feedback [4.16.sup.ab] (0.97) 4.39 (0.93)
at end only
Feedback condition Alone
No managerial feedback 2.92 (1.20)
(Typical “female” pattern I)
Negative managerial feedback 2.93 (1.20)
(Typical “male” pattern)
Positive managerial feedback 3.14 (1.32)
Positive managerial at end only 3.12 (1.15)
(Typical “female” pattern II)
Negative managerial feedback 3.45 (1.20)
at end only
Note. N = 229. Students’ willingness to engage in the activity under
varying interpersonal contexts was assessed using 5-point Likert-type
scale items with 1 being not at all willing and 5 being definitely
willing. Within columns, means with different superscripts differ at
p [less than] .05. Standard deviations are indicated in parentheses.
Table IV. Means and Standard Deviations for Goal Variables
Overall means Girls
Goal item (You wanted…) (N = 229) (n = 123)
the teacher to be proud of you 4.32 (0.91) 4.37 (0.80)
to make the teacher happy by
doing good work 4.08 (1.10) 4.12 (1.04)
to work on your own 2.81 (1.40) 2.83 (1.33)
to do the work without the teacher’s help 2.42 (1.33) 2.34 (1.19)
to learn something new 4.63 (0.63) 4.63 (0.60)
to learn as much as possible 4.66 (0.65) 4.69 (0.62)
to know whether you did the
work better than other students 3.79 (1.27) 3.75 (1.23)
to do better than everyone else 4.28 (0.97) 4.18 (1.02)
Goal item (You wanted…) (n = 106)
the teacher to be proud of you 4.25 (1.02)
to make the teacher happy by
doing good work 4.03 (1.17)
to work on your own 2.79 (1.48)
to do the work without the teather’s help 2.52 (1.48)
to learn something new 4.63 (0.67)
to learn as much as possible 4.69 (0.68)
to know whether you did the
work better than other students 3.85 (1.32)
to do better than everyone else 4.41 (0.90)
Fig. 1. Experimental design.
1 2 3 4 5
Typical Typical “Male” Typical “Female”
“Female” “Male” Pattern with “Female” Pattern with
Pattern I – Pattern – Opposite Pattern II – Opposite
Positive Negative Valence – Positive Valence –
Competence Managerial Positive Managerial Negative
Feedback Feedback Managerial Feedback Managerial
Only at the After Each Feedback and Positive Feedback and
End of the Exercise and After Each Competence Positive
Activity Positive Exercise Feedback at Competence
Competence and Positive the End of Feedback
Feedback at Competence the Activity At the End of
the End of Feedback at The Activity
the Activity the end of
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