Changes in Student Attitudes toward the Market System and the Introductory Microeconomics Course

Article excerpt

There are numerous research findings supporting the proposition that cultural values and attitudes are associated with the economic prosperity of a country (Harrison, 1992; Sowell, 1994; Lal, 1998). These findings suggest a possible important role for values and attitudes in the teaching and learning of economics. Traditionally, however, values and attitudes are scarcely acknowledged in economics instruction at the introductory or intermediate level. The economic paradigm presented in class is based on "positive economics" and we see our roles as educators as promoting development of cognitive and objective understanding of the workings of the market primarily based on neo-classical assumptions, tenets and models. The influence of values, attitudes and beliefs is often relegated to other social sciences. Becker (1983) was one of the first researchers in economic education to point out that there was a need to explore the "affective domain" of economics. Subsequent research reported development of several instruments to assess the impact of attitudes (Soper and Walstad, 1983; O'Brien and Ingles, 1987; Breeden and Lephardt, 1993, 2005). Other research focused on the assessment of attitudes based on contentspecific cases of economic behavior such as pricing (Seligman and Schwartz, 1997), change of attitudes as the result of taking an economics course (Whaples, 1995), and the differences in attitudes between demographic subgroups, changes in attitudes of principles classes over time and the impact of pro-market attitudes on grades in principles of economics (Breeden and Lephardt, 2002).

Although the principal goal of the Introductory Microeconomics course is to impart objective, "positive" knowledge about the principles that animate decision making of economic actors generally in the market economy, there is a suspicion among those teaching the course that attitudes toward the market system also change. In the results reported here, we attempt to measure the impact that Introductory Microeconomics has on the attitudes of university introductory microeconomics students. We test the presumption that attitudes of introductory economics students will become more "pro-market" as a result of the experience of an introductory microeconomics class and note some of the interesting differentials in attitude changes of demographic groups.


Over the last 13 years, we have developed a twenty-two question survey, the Market Attitude Inventory (MAI), that assesses attitudes toward the market system. See Breeden and Lephardt (2005, forthcoming) for testing of norming and validity of the instrument. We have administered this instrument to university students at various levels, to high school students, to high school teachers in Wisconsin and to teachers attending economic education workshops. In prior research we have reported on the attitudes toward the market system shown by students at different levels of instruction, principles vs. intermediate vs. MBA students, and noted the marked differences in attitudes (see Breeden & Lephardt, 2002, at Table 4). In comparing the mean attitudes of principles of economics students with MBA students, for example, the considerable higher level of "pro-market" sentiment of the MBA students cannot be taken solely as the result of education. It is reasonable to assume that business majors will be more pro-market in orientation than lower division students who have yet to select a major or college. Students working full-time in business can be expected to be more pro-market than business majors. The self-selecting nature of each of these samples makes it impossible to draw the conclusion that economics instruction alone makes students" attitudes more "pro-market."

In this study, we perform a true "pre-post" measure of the change in attitudes of a group of Principles of Microeconomics students over the course of a semester. We administered the MAI instrument to four separate Principles of Microeconomics classes in the fall semester of 2003. …