UWS student wins prestigious international psychology award

Date: 14/03/2002

A UWS PhD student's research into how students deal with failure has won the world's most prestigious educational psychology award.

Dr Andrew Martin, from the University of Western Sydney's SELF (Self-concept Enhancement and Learning Facilitation) Research Centre, was awarded the Most Outstanding Educational Psychology Doctoral Dissertation for 2000/2001 by the American Psychological Association (APA).

His thesis, entitled Self-Handicapping and Defensive Pessimism: Predictors and Consequences From a Self-Worth Motivation Perspective, is one of the first comprehensive studies into how students deliberately put obstacles in their path and set unrealistically low expectations to protect their self esteem in case they fail.

To carry out his research, Dr Martin followed students through the first two years of their study at university and mapped the causes and consequences of these self-protective strategies.

"Self-handicapping refers to students' tendency to put obstacles in their path to success as a way to protect themselves in case they fail," says Dr Martin.

"The most commonly used obstacles are procrastination, time wasting, and a lack of study.

"The study revealed that a high fear of failure underpinned self-handicapping, with self-handicappers responding to this fear by using their self-imposed obstacles as a way to protect their self-esteem. In doing so, they are able to blame the procrastination for their failure and not the fact that they may have lacked ability."

Dr Martin found that students also set unrealistically low expectations leading up to an exam or assignment - a tactic known as defensive pessimism.

"Defensive pessimists also fear failure and respond to this fear by setting lower expectations that are easier to achieve, thus reducing the chances of failure," he says.

"No matter how well these students have done in the past, they expect to do poorly on the next assessment task."

Dr Martin's research was supervised by academics Professor Herb Marsh (UWS) and Associate Professor Ray Debus (Sydney University), and supported through his membership in the SELF (Self-concept Enhancement and Learning Facilitation) Research Centre at UWS.

"The Centre is extremely proud of Andrew's achievements. His study is one of the first of its kind and it's wonderful that it has been recognised internationally by the APA - the peak international psychology association," says Professor Marsh.

"This is apparently the first time in the history of the Association that this award have been given to an Australian researcher," Professor Marsh says.

This is not the first award Dr Martin has received for his doctoral research. His PhD was also judged the Most Outstanding Education PhD in Australia by the Australian Association for Research in Education in 1999.

Dr Martin will attend the APA's annual conference in Chicago, USA, in August this year to receive his award and present a conference paper.

For more media information contact:
Amanda Whibley
UWS Media Officer
Phone: 9678 7472
Mobile:0418 438 399
Email: a.whibley@uws.edu.au