Reducing Self-Entitlement Attitudes through Service Learning

Article excerpt

The purpose of the current study is to explore the effects of community service work and community involvement on perceptions of self-entitlement--expectations of others to do things for oneself--among undergraduate students. Over the course of a 16-week semester, 26 randomly selected subjects (20 community college psychology students and six state university psychology students) volunteered to participate in a community service gardening program. Students were administered a pretest questionnaire that measured their self-entitlement attitudes and attitudes addressing the importance of community service. At the end of the 16-week semester, students were administered a posttest questionnaire to assess attitudes toward their community service work. A control group (n = 26) was administered the same questionnaire, but they did not participate in community service work throughout the semester. Results were analyzed using a t-test and statistical significance was found (p < .05). Results indicate that after participating in a service program, student perception of the importance of community service work significantly increased and their sense of self-entitlement decreased.


Previous research has explored the importance of social work within the community and how people need to feel "connected" to society by providing a specific skill or trade to others within the community (Adler, 1964; Lisman, 1998). Research has also shown the importance of community service work in connection to ethics and moral development (Boss, 1994). Adler describes the importance of establishing social interest--the need to identify with and cooperate, contribute and volunteer with others for the common good of the community. As a collective society, citizens need to remind themselves to engage in prosocial behaviors for the common good even though there may be no direct or reciprocal benefit to them.

Many individuals--adults as well as children--have experienced an increase in what is referred to as "self-entitlement": an expectation, of others to do things for oneself or one's community. Socially aware adults maintain that by teaching children to assume more civic and social responsibility such as engaging in volunteer clean-up programs and community service work, attitudes of self-entitlement will decrease. The following research is especially important, given the negative ramifications of long term self-entitlement attitudes. For example, what happens when parents and their children do not assume responsibility for their learning and performing well in school? What happens when people do not accept responsibility for their own health issues such as obesity or substance abuse (i.e., alcoholism or chronic cigarette smoking)? Assumptions about self-entitlement lead them to expect others to correct the problem that began with their own poor lifestyle choices. Thus, the community takes on the responsibility of the individual rather than the individual taking responsibility for himself or herself. Unfortunately, when too many people develop self-entitlement attitudes, the community no longer becomes capable of helping those in need of assistance. Communities are strongest when individuals engage in volunteer work to help each other and weakest when individuals expect things to be done for them, things they should recognize as part of their individual responsibility.

Civic responsibility

Larson-Keagy (2002) notes that community colleges and universities are responsible for the development of knowledge and character among students and are in a unique position to promote such development. Larson-Keagy defines "civic responsibility" as "an active participation in the public life of a community in an informed, committed, and constructive manner, with a focus on the common good" (p. 2). The relationship between the terms "civic responsibility" and "self-entitlement" is critical here. Civic responsibility encourages individuals to take on more community obligations for the common good, whereas self-entitlement expects the common good for oneself. …