Utilizing Need for Cognition and Perceived Self-Efficacy to Predict Academic Performance

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  • Utilizing Need for Cognition and Perceived Self-Efficacy to Predict Academic Performance1

    STEVEN M. ELIAS* AND ROSS J. LOOMIS Colorado State Universiiy

    A study was conducted to determine whether academic performance could be predicted on the bases of the constructs need for cognition (NFC) and academic self-efficacy. Two hypotheses were generated: Positive correlations will be found between academic self- efficacy, NFC, and grade point average (GPA); and efficacy and NFC will serve as signif- icant predictors of GPA. The path mediation technique recommended by Baron & Kenny (1986) for testing mediated relationships was also performed in order to assess the causal direction of the NFC and academic self-efficacy variables. Participants were 138 under- graduate students. The first hypothesis was generally supported in that significant correla- tions were found between NFC, efficacy beliefs, and GPA. In support of the second hypothesis, path analysis revealed that NFC and academic self-efficacy were significant predictors of GPA. Furthermore, the NFC-GPA relationship was shown to be mediated by efficacy beliefs.

    The ability to predict a students academic performance is of great value. The first goal of this study is to determine if need for cognition and academic self- efficacy could serve as predictors of academic performance, as measured by grade point average (GPA). The second goal of this study is to assess the causal direction of the two variables of interest. A review of the need for cognition and academic self-efficacy literature will indicate that both variables are important to academic success. However, the causal direction of the two variables remains ambiguous. Therefore, making use of path analysis, we will test two competing causal models in order to determine if need for cognition causes the development of academic self-efficacy or vice versa.

    Need for Cognition

    To contrast the variables of interest, need,for cognition (NFC) is a construct that refers to an individuals inclination to seek out and enjoy thinking (Cacioppo

    The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of Russell Cropanzano in conducting the path

    2Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Steven M. Elias, Department of analysis reported in this study.

    Psychology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. E-mail: selias@lamar.colostate.edu

    1687

    Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2002,32,8, pp. 1687-1 702. Copyright 0 2002 by V. H. Winston & Son, Inc. All rights reserved.

  • 1688 ELIAS AND LOOMIS

    & Petty, 1982). For example, does a student take easy courses so as to avoid a great deal of cognitive expenditure (low NFC), or does the student take challeng- ing courses because he or she enjoys them (high NFC)? Perceived self-efficacy is a construct that addresses an individuals confidence in his or her ability to accomplish a task (Bandura, 1997). Academic self-efficacy refers to an individ- uals belief in his or her ability to successfully achieve an academic goal (Bandura, 1977). For example, does a student enroll in easy courses because he or she does not have the confidence in himself or herself to pass hard courses (inefficacious), or does a student enroll in difficult courses because he or she does have the confidence in himself or herself to pass such courses (efficacious)?

    People who have a high NFC should enjoy tasks that involve mental activities and should have a great desire to understand things (Tolentino, Curry, & Leak, 1990). Of importance is that NFC is a general propensity to enjoy cognitive tasks. This differs from other concepts, which may be related to NFC, but depend on some state being achieved. For example, NFC differs from the concept of,flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) because flow refers to a state in which an experience is so enjoyable that people will do it simply for the sake of doing it, at virtually any cost.

    One focus of the current research is on NFC and undergraduate academic issues. In addition to NFC being examined in relation to variables pertinent to undergraduate studies (i.e., grade point average and academic curiosity), NFC has been examined in terms of variables essential to the beginning of such studies (i.e., standardized test scores).

    Important to an individuals acceptance into a university is that individuals prior academic record. Such a record generally consists of a high school grade point average (GPA) and some form of standardized test. Both of these types of measures of performance have been correlated with NFC. For example, a signifi- cant positive correlation has been found between NFC and both American College Test scores (Cacioppo & Petty, 1984; Olson, Camp, & Fuller, 1984; Petty & Jarvis, 1996) and high school GPA (Petty & Jarvis, 1996). In both instances, individuals with higher NFCs obtained higher scores, allowing the inference to be made that high NFC students have an advantage in terms of being accepted into universities.

    It should be noted that relationships between NFC and GPA have been found with students at different phases of their course of study. Numerous studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between NFC and undergraduate GPA (Cacioppo & Petty, 1984; Petty & Jarvis, 1996; Tolentino et al., 1990; Waters & Zakrajsek, 1990). Furthermore, studies have shown NFC to be related to several other variables that likely have an influence on academic performance, such as a desire for thoughts to be stimulated.

    For example, Venkatraman, Marlino, Kardes, and Sklar (1 990) found that individuals with a high NFC, when compared to individuals with a low NFC, have a greater desire for experiences that stimulate thought. Clearly, a desire to

  • NEED FOR COGNITION 1689

    have ones thoughts stimulated would be of great benefit to any university stu- dent. In the same study, Venkatraman et al. found a significant negative correla- tion between NFC and the motive to ignore and avoid new information. Such a motive would certainly prove detrimental, especially when considering the amount of new information that undergraduate students are exposed to during their courses of study. Therefore, low NFC students may very well be put at a dis- advantage when having to assimilate new information.

    Olson et al. (1 984) found a positive correlation between NFC and academic curiosity. This indicates that those individuals possessing a high NFC were likely to seek out and engage in academic activities without the expectation of some form of extrinsic reward for doing so. Related to academic activities, research has shown NFC to be related to problem solving. Heppner, Reeder, and Larson (1 983) reported that high NFC undergraduate students have more positive appraisals of their problem-solving skills than do low NFC undergraduates. Given these findings, and assuming that these bivariate relationships possess pre- dictive validity, one would be led to believe that NFC would serve as a good pre- dictor of academic performance. One purpose of the current research is to test the idea that NFC can be applied to an academic setting so as to accurately predict performance.

    Perceived Self-Efficacy

    Efficacy beliefs play an influential part in the ways in which we think, feel, become motivated, and act (Bandura, 1995). In fact, Bandura (1997) stated that if individuals are very inefficacious with regard to a task, they would not even make an attempt to succeed at that task. One important aspect of perceived self-effi- cacy is that it is not an omnibus trait. Individuals can possess differing efficacy beliefs for any number of activities. For example, an individual can be efficacious with regard to academics, while at the same time be inefficacious with regard to artistic ability. As a result, research and measurement devices regarding self- efficacy should be domain specific (Bandura, 1997).

    Recall that academic self-efficacy refers to an individuals judgment of his or her ability to organize and execute actions with the intention of successfully attaining educational goals (Bandura, 1977). With regard to motivation, Bandura wrote that students with high academic self-efficacy will participate more readily, and work harder and longer, when confronted with academic difficulties. Interestingly, this willingness to participate in academic situations is similar to how high NFC individuals will seek out cognitive tasks.

    As is the case with NFC, numerous studies have shown the importance of academic self-efficacy with regard to academic success. Bandura (1 997) stated, Students may perform poorly either because they lack the skills or because they have the skills but lack the perceived personal efficacy to make optimal use of

  • 1690 ELlAS AND LOOMS

    them (p. 2 15). If such a statement is accurate, the importance of academic self- efficacy to academic achievement cannot be underestimated.

    Mone, Baker, and Jeffries (1995) reported that academic self-efficacy serves as a significant predictor of course examination grades, and that academic perfor- mance can be improved through changes in self-efficacy. Lent, Brown, and Larkin ( 1986) conducted research indicating that academic self-efficacy can be related to poor grades, inefficient study habits, and multiple major changes. As a result of this relationship, it was suggested that in cases involving students with academic problems, school counselors might provide assistance in modifying faulty efficacy beliefs. Such a suggestion indicates a direct causal link between efficacy beliefs and academic performance.

    With regard to academic self-efficacy influencing academic performance, Lent, Brown, and Larkin (1984) found that efficacious students generally achieve higher grades than do inefficacious students. Furthermore, efficacious students were also found to persist longer at their majors than were inefficacious students. Vrugt ( 1994) found that efficacy and downward social comparison significantly contribute to positive feelings experienced by students. Furthermore, these posi- tive feelings are significantly related to the students course grades. Vrugt, Langereis, and Hoogstraten (1 997) found that academic self-efficacy, among undergraduate students with high intelligence, significantly contributed to exam performance.

    Shell, Murphy, and Bruning (I 989) reported that efficacy beliefs are signifi- cantly related to students abilities concerning reading and writing skills. Simi- larly, Wolters and Pintrich (1 998) conducted research indicating that efficacy beliefs predicted performance in mathematics, English, and social studies courses offered at the middle school level. Furthermore, high efficacy students, when compared to low efficacy students, received higher grades in such courses. From these studies indicating that efficacy is related to and can be used to predict performance for specific academic topics, one can hypothesize that the same effi- cacy beliefs could be used to predict overall academic performance.

    Need for Cognition and Perceived Self-Efficacy

    Though we were unable to locate any research that directly examined the combined effect of NFC and academic self-efficacy, the evidence strongly suggests that increased NFC will result in increased efficacy beliefs, or vice versa. It seems logical that if an individual were to enjoy and actively seek out some task (e.g., NFC), he or she would also be confident in his or her ability (efficacy) to successfully perform that task. Therefore, a high NFC individual should be more confident in his or her ability to perform cognitive tasks than should a low NFC individual. Likewise, if an individual were confident in his or her cognitive abilities, one would assume that he or she would also possess a high

  • NEED FOR COGNITION 1691

    Figure I. Competing causal models of Bandura (1997) and Cacioppo and Petty (1982). NFC = need for cognition; GPA = grade point average.

    NFC. Such logical deductions justify why determining the causal direction that might exist between NFC and academic self-efficacy is both interesting and important.

    As the aforementioned research indicates, NFC and perceived academic self- efficacy seem to be correlated with several academic issues, including perfor- mance. These previous findings, although interesting, may be looked upon as simple bivariate relationships, which in hindsight might even seem obvious. However, upon further investigation, one becomes aware that these findings lead to several questions. The first question refers to whether NFC and academic self- efficacy can be used to predict academic performance. The second question refers to what causal direction might exist between the two variables. From the previous research, we can conclude that both variables matter to academic perfor- mance, but what is unclear is if the two variables work together.

    Competing Causal Models

    Bandura (1 995, 1997) pointed out that people guide their lives based on their perceived self-efficacy. Likewise, Bandura wrote that when people are ineffica- cious, they will not attempt to make things happen. From this, one can conclude that Bandura would believe that academic self-efficacy is the distal cause of aca- demic performance, whereas NFC would be the proximal cause (Figure 1 ) . In other words, academic self-efficacy would result in increased NFC, which in turn would account for variance in academic success.

    Cacioppo and Petty (1 982) wrote that if an individual has high NFC, he or she will partake in and enjoy thinking. Along these lines, numerous studies have shown the importance of NFC to academic performance. From this, it can be said

  • 1692 ELlAS AND LOOMIS

    that Cacioppo and Petty would believe that NFC would be the distal cause of academic performance, whereas academic self-efficacy would be the proximal cause (Figure 1). Contrary to Bandura, Cacioppo and Petty would consider that high NFC results in increased academic self-efficacy, which in turn would account for variance in academic success.

    Clearly, from the research cited, both NFC and academic self-efficacy are important constructs when considering academic issues. The objective of the present study is to determine if both NFC and academic self-efficacy could serve as predictors of academic success. Furthermore, it is hoped to be determined which variable (NFC or efficacy) is the more distal and which is the more proxi- mal to academic performance.

    It is hypothesized that positive correlations will be found between NFC, aca- demic self-efficacy, and GPA. Furthermore, it is hypothesized that overall aca- demic performance (as measured by GPA) will be possible to predict based on an individuals NFC and academic self-efficacy. The path mediation technique rec- ommended by Baron and Kenny (1986) for testing mediated relationships will be used in order to assess the causal direction of the NFC and academic self-efficacy variables.

    Method

    Purticipan ts

    The sample was comprised of 138 (53...

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