Social Comparisons in the Classroom Revisited: Insights Into Underlying Processes Using Immersive Virtual Reality as a Research Tool

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Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2021-12-16
Language: English
Faculty: 6 Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Erziehungswissenschaft
Advisor: Göllner, Richard (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2021-12-10
DDC Classifikation: 150 - Psychology
Other Keywords: Akademisches Selbstkonzept
Soziale Vergleichsprozesse
Virtual Reality
Experimentelle Unterrichtsforschung
Social Comparison Processes
Virtual Reality
Experimental Classroom Research
Academic Self-Concept
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Social comparisons are commonplace in every classroom and widely acknowledged as central determinants of students’ academic self-evaluations (see, e.g., Dijkstra et al., 2008; Trautwein & Möller, 2016). Most prominently, in educational psychology research, social comparisons have been assumed to be the cause behind the well-known Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect (BFLPE; Marsh, 1987), suggesting negative effects of higher class-average (or school-average) achievement on students’ academic self-concept while controlling for individual achievement. Whereas existing research has provided compelling evidence of the effects of certain reference groups on students’ self-evaluations (Marsh et al., 2017; Marsh & Seaton, 2015), the actual mechanisms behind the proposed effects and how students process social information while learning are still a black box. The present dissertation was aimed at gaining insights into the respective underlying processes (i.e., the “inner workings” of this black box) by using immersive virtual reality (IVR) as a research tool. IVR technology provides an unprecedent opportunity for educational psychology research to integrate ecological validity and experimental control in research designs to gain authentic and yet standardized insights into classroom processes, such as social comparisons and beyond (see, e.g., Blascovich et al., 2002). To this end, the present dissertation was aimed at a theoretical as well as a methodological advancement of research on social comparisons in the classroom. To address these objectives, the dissertation drew on three empirical studies with an IVR classroom including an experimental manipulation of classmates’ performance-related behavior. First, pursuing a more in-depth theoretical understanding of social comparisons and the respective processing of social information in the classroom, the dissertation aimed to identify covert and overt social comparison behaviors that (a) reflect students’ cognitive and behavioral responses to social comparison information in an IVR classroom and (b) ultimately explain individual differences in students’ self-concepts. Studies 1 and 2 used students’ self-reports (of their interpretation of classmates’ performance-related behavior) and eye movement data (e.g., visual attention on classmates) to identify different social comparison processes in the IVR classroom and to provide insights into the mechanisms that underlie the BFLPE. Second, aiming to provide insights into how IVR classrooms can be used as an experimental tool in educational psychology research, Study 3 focused on the configuration of an IVR classroom to authentically simulate and control a (social) classroom environment. The study provides insights into how different fields of view, virtual avatar visualization styles and virtual classmates’ performance-related behaviors affect students’ processing of social information provided in the IVR classroom. Taken together, by using an IVR classroom as an experimentally controlled yet authentic research setting, the present dissertation was able to advance the theoretical understanding of social comparisons and respective processing of social information in the classroom that ultimately explain individual differences in students’ self-concept. Moreover, the present dissertation demonstrates how IVR classrooms and the corresponding standardized process data can be used to gain insights into classroom processes, such as social comparisons. The dissertation thereby provides implications for research on both social comparisons in the classroom and the use of IVR as an experimental tool in educational and social psychology research in general.

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