Do Psychology and Biology Majors Differ in Their Study Processes and Learning Styles?

Article excerpt

This study investigated the differences in learning styles of psychology (n = 87) and biology (n = 92) majors, using the Biggs, Kember, and Leung's (2001) two-factor Revised Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F). Significant differences between the two majors were found on the subscales of Deep Approach, Deep Motive and Deep Strategy, but not on the subscales of Surface Approach, Surface Motive and Surface Strategy. This suggests that psychology majors use more Deep Approach techniques while studying than their cohort group of biology majors. There was no significant differences between upper and lower level students in learning styles. Continued research into this area may provide a better understanding of why some students struggle in certain courses, while they excel in others. Also, this type of research may be used by advisors as they assist students in selecting a major that will compliment their learning style, as well as potentially helping students transition between different types of academic disciplines.

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With today's modern technologies, biological researchers are constantly revealing new insights into how our brain operates. Therefore, it is crucial that students in the psychological field develop an understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms and principles that play such an important role in psychological health, diseases and disorders. However, many of today's psychology majors find the biology courses that they are required to take far more difficult and demanding than the courses that focus on theoretical psychology. It is not unusual to hear students complain about the vast amounts of memorization that is required in an anatomy and physiology course. A corollary of this is that it is also common to hear biology majors say that although the psychology course they are required to take to fulfill a core requirement is interesting, they find that studying for the test and predicting test questions is difficult and sometimes elusive. This leads one to wonder if there are fundamental differences in the learning styles that psychology and biology majors use and how these differences underscore their approaches to their courses.

Many studies have investigated what types of learning styles are utilized by students in different majors. For example, Misra (1998) found that Arts, Science, Fine Arts and Management majors each fell within entirely different learning style characteristics. Zakrajesk, Johnson, and Walker (1984) took a more discrete approach and used Kolb's LSI to study the learning styles of two closely related majors, physical education and dance. Their study found that both majors exhibited similar learning style characteristics on Kolb's LSI.

However, Biberman and Buchanan (1986) contest that overgeneralizations may be made when students are all lumped into one category. Biberman and Buchanan surveyed students who were accounting, economics/finance, management, and marketing majors who are all classified under the universal grouping of the business school. Their results suggest that only the economics/finance majors scored as Kolb would have predicted, whereas the accounting students scored similarly to science majors, and management and marketing majors scored in the same range as the humanities and applied majors.

Stewart and Felicetti (1992) like Biberman and Buchanon (1986) looked at the individual majors that are assumed under the general category of "business." Using the Gregoric model, they too found distinct differences in the learning styles preferred by each of the majors within the business taxonomy. In addition, Stewart and Felicetti (1992) found a contrast between learning styles of upper division and lower division students.

Matthews (1991) applied the Canfield model to compare the learning styles of education majors to those of students majoring in mathematics, humanities, business, science and social science. …

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