Males more optimistic, but to their detriment

September 17, 2009

Male students are more confident than their female counterparts and expect to do better academically - but they are also more likely to drop out or defer their studies, according to research.

A team at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff studied 112 psychology students over three years. It found that despite national concern about underachievement in male students, they began university life with more positive expectations than their female peers.

Induction-week interviews by the team, led by Lalage Sanders, principal lecturer in the School of Health Sciences, found that men expected significantly higher marks and had higher self-esteem than women.

Interviews later in the year revealed that male students perceived themselves as being less motivated and organised than females, but that they did not consider this a problem.

In a paper in Psychology Teaching Review, the Uwic team say: "There is an acknowledgement that females may be more able in certain aspects of managing their learning, but this is not perceived as something that the males aspire to ... these skills are not viewed as essential for progression."

The male students had poorer marks than the females at the end of the first year, but these differences disappeared by the end of the degree.

However, more than 33 per cent of the males had left the course by the final year, compared with 22 per cent of the females. Almost 25 per cent of the men deferred, compared with just 8 per cent of women.

In 2000, a team led by Jane Mellanby at the University of Oxford found that high self-esteem and academic efficacy were not predictors of academic success.

The Uwic paper suggests that male students' optimistic views of their abilities may be detrimental.

"Positive self-beliefs may result in lack of effort in their studies, which in turn would mean poorer marks," it says.

The authors say the men who completed the course may have moved on from the "laddish" attitudes they had displayed in the first year, allowing them to achieve the same results as the women.

Alternatively, "males may get away with less work and yet achieve a comparable outcome", the authors suggest.

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