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Supersedes 245-67 and 182-66

Sara K. Winter

Jeffery C. Griffith"

David A. Kolb




Supersedes Ih^-bl and 182-66

2 3

Sara K. Winter Jeffery C. Griffith

David A. Kolb

students who devoted time and
energy to reporting their self-directed change projects and to John Aram,
Michael Fulenwider, Douglas Hall, David Meredith, William McKelvey and
Irwin Rubin who served as T-Group trainers. This research was in part
supported by the Sloan Research Fund of M.I.T. This paper is not to be
cited, quoted, or reproduced prior to publication.

Wesleyan University.

Harvard University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

1-1 I) aT

M. I. I. LibKAKlhS

Winter, Griffith, Kolh Article fc

A content analysis of self-descriptive essays written by students who
were subsequently successful (N=13) and unsuccessful (N=ll) in attaining
self -directed behavior chanp,e goals revealed: (a) High-change subjects
more frequently stated goals with implicit recognition that the goal had
not yet been attained; (b) Lov;-change subjects more frequently described
themselves with little recognition of alternative possibilities; (c) Low-
change subjects showed more tentativcness and uncertainty about themselves
("identity diffusion"). The findings were cross-validated in a second
sample of successful (N=9) and unsuccessful (N=22) students. The results
suggest that successful self-directed change is motivated by awareness of
the cognitive dissonance created when an individual commits himself to a
valued goal that he sees as different from his present behavior.



The idea that people can change themselves has been unfashionable among
psychologists for some time. Since Freud and his followers cast doubt on the
will psychology of William James, psychologists have generally accepted the
notion that present behavior is rooted in the past and in the unconscious.
As Allport (i960) has noted, contemporary psychological theories focus heavily
on the ways in which men respond reactively to external stimuli, and pay little
attention to man's proactive, self-directing capacities. There is a corres-
ponding assumption that an individual cannot by his own efforts effect personal
change .

In the popular mind, however, self -directed personal change has consistent-
ly been recognized as difficult but worthy of consideration. Self improvement
books are commercially successful, and New Years' resolutions, although often
broken, continue to be made. Moreover, in recent years members of the treat-
ment professions are increasingly questioning Freudian assumptions about per-
sonality change. The growing and widespread interest in behavior therapy
(Grossberg, 1964) suggests a return to the belief that isolated symptoms can
be accepted more or less at face value, and can be treated without probing
for "deeper" problems. One recent publication (Goldiamond, 1965) addresses .
itself directly to "the application of self -controlled procedures to the solu-

VJiiU or

tion of certain limited behavioral problems". It appears that many psychol-
ogists arc increasingly v;illing to explore the possibility that an individual
can identify his own problems and work to effect a change.

The study reported here is part of a research program aimed at developing
a method for self-directed personal change and at understanding the psycholog^^
cal processes involved in successful personal change efforts. The simple
change method employed in the research provides a paradigm for studying facto^p
and processes whiph presumably are also important in other situations where
people work to change themselves. f

The major emphasis of the method is on self-research. The individual is
given responsibility for diagnosing his own problem, setting his own goal, and
accomplishing change by his own efforts. When business-school students used
this method to change themselves as part of their participation in self-anal-
ytic groups (Kolb, Winter and Berlew, 1967), two factors were found that pre-
dicted their success in changing. Change was found to be related to the in-
dividual's commitment to his change goal and the amount of feedback he received
from other group members. Improving the change method to increase goal commit-
ment and feedback increased the percentage of students successfully attaining
their goals from 5% to 617..

This reason gave no attention, however, to the question of individual
differences in ability to achieve personal change goals. The purpose of the
study reported here is to gain further insight into the self-directed change
process by learning more about the attributes of individuals who are and are
not able to achieve personal change. The approach is inductive, since so little
Is known about personality factors important in self-directed change.

In the present paper, self-descriptive essays written by subjects who
later prove to be successful in their change efforts are compared with the
efT.ays of subjects who later prove unsuccessful in ch.Tnging. Through contPnt


analysis features of the essays which distincuisli betv;een the two groups will
be isolated. These findings will then be cross-validated for a second sample
of successful and unsuccessful subjects.

Setting ; The study was conducted in a semester long course in Psychology
and Human Organization, required of candidates for a Master's degree in Manage-
ment at M.I.T. As a part of the course, students participated in 15-man
Training Groups (T-Groups) which met twice weekly throughout the semester
(see Bradford et . al . , 1964, for a general description of T-Groups). The
self-directed change projects were required as a part of the student's T-
Group participation, but were ungraded. The study* reported here was carried
out during two successive semesters.

Subjects: High-change and Low-change subjects were selected as described
belov; from among the 51 students in Semester I (85% of tlie total course en-
rollment of 60) and the 70 students in Semester H (92% of the total course
enrollment of 76) who completed self-directed change projects. All students
were male undergraduates of Master's candidates in Industrial Management at
M.I.T. They ranged in age from 20 to 35, with most in their early twenties.

Change method ; The self-directed change technique employed by all sub-
jects in both Semester I and Semester II can be summarized as follows. In
the first week of the course, before hearing of the change projects, each
student wrote a brief essay on "How I would ideally like to be in a group".
This essay (referred to below as the Ideal-Self paper) was followed in the
third week of the course by a brief essay on "How I am actually perceived in .
groups" (the Real-Self paper) . These two essays were assigned to increase
piudcnts' tiioughtf ulness about themselves and their goals, preparatory to the


actunl chanyc projects. In Semester II, the Rokeacli Dogmatism scale (Rokeach,
1960) v;as administered since it seemed that this measure of cognitive openness
might predict aljility to change by the self-directed method.

The change tcclmique was introduced in the fifth week of the course with
a lecture by the convsc instructor. After a discunsion of factors influencing
behavior change (follovdng McClelland, 1965) and a presentation of individual
case studies of self-directed change (following Schwitzgebel , 1964; Zachs,
1965), the insturctor explained the procedure for carrying out the change
projects. Students were asked to spend the next two T-Group meetings consid-
ering and discussing possible personal change goals. They were encouraged,
though not required, to select goals relevant to their participation in the
T-Group sessions.

In the seventh week of the course, each student selected a personal change
goal and noted how he planned to measure progress toward his goal. Goals var-
ied widely; some students selected global objectives (e.g., "to become more
sensitive to others' feelings"), while other students chose more discrete
behavior change goals (e.g., "I would like to speak more slowly and clearly.")
In successive group meetings (9 meetings in Semester I, 10 in Semester II)
the student after each session rated his progress toward his goal. The basis
for these ratings again varied widely; some students made subjective personal
judgments, while others kept objective counts of the behavior in question or
asked other group members to provide peer ratings. Ratings were entered on a
graph, so that the student could examine a visual record of his progress toward
the goal from meeting to meeting. Group members were encouraged to give one
another feedback on their progress.


At the end of the semester each student evaluated his overall progress
in a short final paper which included his estimate of the degree to which he
had acliieved his change goal, and a discussion of factors contribution to
change or lack of change .

Selection of Hir.h-change and Lov?-chanRe samples : From the total group
of students completing change projects, two samples of subjects were selected
for comparison: A High-change group of subjects who were clearly successful
in achieving their change goals, and a Low-change group v;lio were clearly un-
successful in this task. A subject's degree of success in achieving his change
goal was determined by two criteria: A Subjective Change Rating, and a Trainer
Rating of Change. The Subjective Change Rating was assigned on the basis of
the student's ovm evaluation of the success of his project, as reported in hip
final paper. The rating was based on the final paper rather than on the
mee ting-by-meeting record of progress because meeting-by-necting records
were difficult to compare due to the wide variety of indices of progress em-
ployed by different students. Two raters, unacquainted with the subjects,
read each final paper and assigned a Subjective Change Rating using a 5-point
scale ranging from utter failure (1) to great success (5). In 757o of the
cases, raters independently assigned ratings within one point of each other.
For one-point discrepancies, the two ratings were averaged. For papers where
disagreement was greater than one point, the two raters conferred and assigned
a common rating. The Trainer Rating of Change used the same 5-point scale
and was provided by each student's T-Group leader at the close of the semester.
Trainers did not read the final papers of self descriptive essays.

The High-change sample consists of subjects who by both criteria were
successful in achieving their change goals (both ratings were 4 or 5). Low-
change subjects are those who failed to achieve their change goals by both


criteria (both ratings were 1 or 2). Among the 51 students in Semester I
there were 13 High-change and 11 Low-change subjects by these criteria. In
Semester II, the total sample of 70 students included 9 High-change and 22
Low-change subjects.

Change projects of the remaining students, who received moderate ratings
of change by either criterion, or who rated themselves higher or lower in
change than did the T-Group trainer, were excluded from the present analysis.
Trainer ratings of change were significantly although not highly correlated
with Subjective Change Ratings in both semesters (Semester I , r^ = .36, N = 51,
£< .01; Semester II, r = .26, N = 70, £< .05). Discrepancies between the
two ratings are difficult to interpret, since they could be due to (a) sub-
jects' biased perceptions of degree of change; (b) trainers' difficulty in
observing change for subjects whose goals involved changes in feelings or in-
ternal states; or (c) the fact that subjects and trainers may have used quite
different data as the basis for their ratings. Since it was difficult to
determine whether subjects or trainers were in a better position to estimate
change "accurately", it was decided that both types of ratings should be used
to select High-change and Low-change subjects for the present analysis.

Content Analysis of Ideal-Self Papers and Real-Self Papers: The student's
Ideal-Self and Real-Self essays represent samples of the way High-change and
Low-change subjects think about personal goals and describe their interpersonal
behavior, before the change technique .has influenced them. It was hypothesi-
zed that analysis of these data on ideal-self and real-self conceptualiza-
tions would reveal personality differences that would explain success or lack
of success with a self-directed change project, although no specific predictions
were- made. In examining the essays, the content-analysis method used by
McClelland and his associates for developing new scoring systems for written



TAT protocols (Atkinson, 1958) was employed. In tliis method, two groups of
protocols are compared In order to discover content and/or stylistic features
which are more frequent in one group than in the other. After categories dif-
ferentiating the two groups are inductively derived, the investigator v/rites
category definitions which specify scoring criteria for these categories.
Scoring criteria should be sufficiently objective so that interscorer relia-
bility exceeds 75%. The second stage of data analysis is to cross-validate
the obtained intergroup differences by blind scoring of protocols from a second
sample of subjects.

In the present study, the essays of the 13 High-change and 11 Low-change
subjects in Semester I were used for the inductive phase of data analysis.
Blind scoring of the essays by the authors revealed six categories for which
High-change and Low-change subjects' scores were significantly different
(£ < .05, 2-tailed)by tlie Mann-I^itney U Test. These findings were cross-
validated by blind scoring of the essays of the 9 High-change and 22 Low-
change subjects in Semester II. Only the three categories which did cross-

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validate successfully in .Semester II will be discussed in detail. These

categories are as follows:

In the Ideal-Self Essay
Conditional Desire (CD) (more frequent in the essays of High-change
subjects). This category scores those statements which indicate a desire
for a goal with the implicit recognition that this goal has not yet been
achieved. The most common statement in this category is a statement begin-
ning, "I would like ...". The category is an index of the degree to which
Che student thinks conditionally about himself, in the sense that he indi-
cates awareness of and desire for a goal which has not yet been attained.


Description o£ Essence (DE) (more frequent in the essays of Low-change
subjects). This category scored those instances where the individual gives
and unconditioned description of his present or future self. There is no
recognition of separation between the person's ideal and his current state.
In the Real-Self Essay

Identity Diffusion (ID) (more frequent in the essays of Low-change sub-
jects). This category scores statements from which one can infer confusion
about the self or about the relationship of the self to others and to the
outside world. It seems to be related to Etikson's (1959) definition of the
term. Four types of statements are included: (1) Concern with Reality. All
phrases that stress that one thing is more real or less real than another.
(2) Feelings of Playing a Role. Statements which indicate laclc of congru-
ence between the way the person acts and the way he feels, with no stated
desire to resolve the contradiction. (3) Vagueness about Others' Perceptions
of the Self. Expressions of uncertainty about how the self is perceived by
others, or doubts about how the person wants others to perceive him. (4) In-
decisiveness and Lack of Conviction*. Any statement indicating uncertainty,
tentativeness or lack of conviction about one's own ideas or actions.

Interscorer reliability for the content-analysis categories was calcu-
lated in the following way. The original scores assigned by the authors were
compared with the scoring of another rater unaware either of the hypotheses
of the study or of the identity of the essays. This rater scored 10 essays,
conferred with the authors about cases where her scores differed from the
original scores, and then independently scored 25 essays. The percent agree-,
ment on scoring these 25 essays was 907. for both CD and DE and 847, for ID.

Winter '^"

Comparison of Hiel^-chanGC and Low-change subjects' scores on contcnt -
analysis variables In Semester I and II . In Table 1 are mean values and £
levels of HiBh-chance/Low-change comparisons for the three contnct-annlysls
categories described above. Data for Semester I appear in the left-hand por-
tion of the tablel, which the cross-validation data from Semester II are pres-
ented in the righf:-hand portion of the table. Significance of differences
between High-change and Low-change subjects was tested by the Mann-Whitney
U Test.



Table 1

Content-Analys|.s Category Scores of High and Low-Change Subjects in
Original Sample and in Cross-validation Sample


Semester I

Semester II

Content-analysis code
(number of references)

X score

N = 11

X score
N = 13


X score

N = 9

X score
N «= 22


Conditional Desire
(Ideal-Self Essays)




Online LibrarySara K WinterThe capacity for self direction → online text (page 1 of 2)