Academic journal article Education

Using Novel Experiences in Introductory Psychology: Insects 101

Academic journal article Education

Using Novel Experiences in Introductory Psychology: Insects 101

Article excerpt

At a time when many professors struggle with integrating experiential learning and successful coverage of content, students benefit from those teaching moments that are active, salient, and multidimensional (McKeachie, 1999). Our goal was to provide students with one active experience to assist them in understanding cross-cultural psychology, personality, and nature-nurture. Specifically, students compared how personality traits and television habits influence decisions to participate in an experience that is mundane in many other cultures while being novel in our culture: eating insects.

Entomophagy, or the eating of insects, is practiced in most parts of the world as a regular part of a diet because insects provide an important source of protein. However, citizens in the United States and many parts of Europe generally consider eating insects as inappropriate or even disgusting. Reality television shows capitalize on the public's general aversion to insects by forcing contestants to be covered in live insects or to eat these insects.

Other published activities have demonstrated success with intermingling unappealing food sources and psychological concepts. For example, Scoville (1988) asked students if they will publicly eat chocolate-covered ants. Many of the students agreed. Once students realize Scoville had the ants in his briefcase, many changed their minds. This activity illustrated the concerns with survey responses based on people's predictions of their behaviors, rather than on actual behaviors. Similarly, Rajeki (1989) tainted his own beverage with a variety of contaminants over the course of a class period. Students progressively rated the drink as less appealing each time Rajeki added a contaminant. Using statistical analyses, Rajeki demonstrated to students how their ratings can changed significantly over time.

Although eating insects was our activity of choice, having students participate in any activity common in other cultures, yet uncommon in ours, would allow instructors to discuss how cultural norms influence behaviors. Other examples of similar activities include violating personal space norms (e.g., getting too close) or wearing clothing typical of another culture to a place where such dress would be unexpected. We prefer in-class activities because instructors can refer to and build upon shared experiences. This activity goes beyond a simple discussion of cross-cultural differences because we also addressed the exercise later during the semester. As part of a personality lecture, students considered whether participants who ate insects were somehow different from those who did not. Finally, across both the cross-cultural and personality lectures, we used specific examples from this activity to discuss nature and nurture.

Method and Procedure

At the beginning of the semester, students in a general psychology class completed a larger battery of psychological assessments. Here, we only present those measures relevant to the current study. The Sensation Seeking Scale V (SSS-V, Zuckerman, 1979) contained 40 forced-choice items representing general Sensation Seeking as well as four factor scales. These subscales included Thrill and Adventure Seeking (TAS), Experience Seeking (ES), Disinhibition (Dis), and Boredom Susceptibility (BS). Briefly, these subscales investigate the degree an individual is:

(a) attracted to exciting and novel experiences (TAS)

(b) interested in participating in a variety of experiences (ES)

(c) seeking nonconformity and social disinhibition by engaging in drinking, partying, or sex (Dis)

(d) interested in avoiding routine or boring situations (BS) (Zuckerman, 1979).

Students also completed a questionnaire concerning their television habits. These items assessed students' enjoyment for and viewing frequency of reality-adventure, reality-relationship, situational comedies, dramas, criminal dramas, and sports programming. …

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