Our Research

In a college classroom, students must make choices about how to feel, think, and behave. Do they feel stressed about that upcoming exam? Do they like their instructor and think she is competent? Do they check that text message during lecture? These feelings, thoughts, and behaviors have implications for how much students learn and where their educational trajectories will take them. The BRITE lab explores the many factors that influence these student choices, including students’ beliefs and expectations and their interpretations of what their classmates and instructors believe and expect.

Here are some recent questions that interest us:

  • Students usually want to perform well on exams, but sometimes their desire to perform well leads to stress and anxiety, which can undermine performance. Many instructors try to help their students by advising them to just “calm down,” but is this really the best advice? Could a better strategy involve helping students reinterpret their anxiety, and their stress more broadly as helpful rather than harmful?

  • A lot of recent research suggests that multitasking with technology in class lead to worse enjoyment and worse performance. What can be done about it? Can students develop skills to reduce their multitasking? Should instructors ban technology in class and, if so, how could such policies be framed to gain student acceptance and compliance?

  • How do students’ intuitive beliefs about the nature of teaching influence their academic behaviors and outcomes? One way that intuitive beliefs are conveyed is via metaphor, which both reflect andshape how people think about complex subjects (Flusberg, et al, 2018). For example, when we describe a teacher as “molding impressionable students”, we imply that a teacher is like a sculptor. How do such metaphors reflect our academic attitudes and behaviors? Can we change academic attitudes and behaviors using metaphor?

  • Humans have a fundamental  need to feel accepted and valued by others.  In college, students may look to their instructors for cues to their acceptance and potential belonging in a particular field and in college more broadly.  Do students benefit when they perceive that their instructors care about them, both as learners and as multifaceted people whose lives extend beyond the classroom? How can college instructors demonstrate this broad care, particularly those teaching large courses who are limited in their ability to interact one-on-one students?
  • Being a college athlete is incredibly hard work. In addition to juggling intense demands and time constraints, some college athletes face negative stereotypes about their academic motivation and abilities that can undermine their academic performance. How can we buffer student athletes against these stereotypes in ways that help them get the most out of their college experiences and perform to their full academic potential?

Because of its focus on the mind and behavior, psychology is uniquely qualified to guide other educators in understanding and improving their teaching practices. But much psychological research takes place in highly controlled laboratory settings,  which are different in so many ways from complex and busy classrooms. Thus, there is a great need for rigorous translational research to bridge this gap. Translational research is important not only for improving teaching practices; it also is critical to refining our psychological theories. Translating laboratory findings into complex, authentic environments helps us to understand the conditions required for psychological effects to manifest. The questions described above represent just a few ways that the BRITE lab is building bridges between psychological theory and classroom practice.