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Friday, February 18, 2005

From the academy...

comes the latest breakthrough in the obvious. From the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Psychology, Risk Taking as Developmentally Appropriate Experimentation for College Students". Some of the same problems as yesterday's example:
    To obtain a more holistic view of experimentation, I used a dual interpretive methodology. First, a phenomenological perspective guided data collection and analysis (van Manen, 1984) to provide access to the meanings that individuals assign to the process of experimentation (Morse, 1994). Second, grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) provided a method for building a theory of experimentation usable by scholars (Morse, 1994), without being limited by preconceived notions of risk taking (Glaser, 1978).

  2. Participants
    A stratified sample of 32 college students was interviewed for this research (see Table 1). The samplewas stratified across institution, gender, age, and ethnic group. Twenty students were recruited from a large midwestern university, and 12 students were recruited from a midwestern community college. Incorporating student experiences at different types of institutions allows for a sample and an experience more representative of college students. At the time of the study, all participants were full-time students. To assist with stratification, students were recruited through student organizations on each campus, including cultural, ethnic, arts, academic, and athletic organizations.

  3. Data Collection
    Students were interviewed individually, face to face. Interviews were indepth and semistructured. Questions were developed from a thorough review of the literature to explore the meaning of risk taking and experimentation to college students (see the appendix for the core interviewquestions relevant to the present analyses). Interviews lasted between 50 and 90 minutes and were audiotaped. They were held at a time that was convenient for the student, either on the university campus or on the community college campus. Following the interview, participants completed a brief background questionnaire and a checklist assessing how frequently they participated in a variety of experimentation behaviors. Students received $10 for their participation.

  4. Data Analysis
    The present investigation relied on the constant comparative method of
    interpretive analysis. This method of analysis encourages systematic generation of theory through inductive coding and analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).

    These data were analyzed under the assumption that the data provided by participants corresponds to their actual experiences and to the meanings they apply to these experiences. In addition, interpretation of the data included distinguishing between solicited and unsolicited statements and considering how my background affected the direction of the interview and influenced the data (Taylor & Bogdan, 1998).

Here we go again. Can we trust the "data" gathered from 32 people when there were approximately 13.4 million undergraduates in 2002? What kind of "analysis" was performed? Oh well, it's not worth complaining about too much.

One of the important findings was:
Most students reported having few real world responsibilities. For example, most said they were not financially independent from their parents, thus, they did not have toworry about budgeting their money between leisure activities, such as buying alcohol and paying their bills. Emerging adults described college as an environment in which they were responsible for making their own decisions, relatively unburdened by real world responsibilities, surrounded by other young people making the same decisions.

So, college kids act crazy and take risks (alcohol, drugs, sex) because they have no responsibilities and everyone else around them is acting crazy. Kids engage in risky behavior at college more to fit in than to piss off mom and dad. This is surely the case and doesn't require a lot of investigation.

In high school, kids engage in risky behavior in order to piss off mom and dad. In college, mom and dad are absent and therefore pissing them off is not nearly as rewarding as being seen as "cool." Therefore, in high school Sally and Junior listen to Marylin Manson to drive the old folks up the wall. In college, Sally and Junior drink Stoli, smoke a joint, and debate the metaphysics of Tai Chi in order to be cool. If Sally and Junior end up in the sack, well for one or both of them it is a bonus.

Hopefully the NSF didn't fund this research.

The last page has a "disclaimer" however:
First, these students represent volunteers from one large public university and one community college, both in the same midwestern town. It is also cautioned that these results not be generalized to the experiences of emerging adults who do not attend college, the "forgotten half" ("The Forgotten Half," 1988), or to younger youth. Second, although the sample was relatively diverse in terms of gender and race and ethnicity, the small sample size does not allow for analyses within or between groups.

Oh, okay. Are the journals requiring a "veneer" of data and "analysis" in order to gussy up what are essentially op-ed "theory" pieces? If you want to posit that students act crazy to be cool, then just posit it. It seems that the "data" and the "analysis" are pro forma, intended to "confirm" or support the author's priors. We all have priors, and in and of themselves they are not dangerous. Priors become dangerous when they mold the researcher's approach in such a way as to guarantee a particular outcome.

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