Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Delia Wakelin,
Colin Hamilton,
Sara King Northumbria University,
Newcastle upon Tyne,

Presentation (ppt)


The increased participation and the diversification of the student population is now posing exciting challenges and opening up new avenues of research in order to understand the learning experiences of a contemporary student group and to ensure that all those with a potential to benefit from higher education have the opportunity so to do.

Recent research has indicated that psychology students scoring high on an Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), self report questionnaires (CAARS & WHO) were likely to have poor academic performance.

The purpose of the research is to further explore and understand the factors relating to the poor academic performance of these neurodiverse students by examining their motivation, learning styles and creativity.

In one study of 180 psychology students it was found that neurodiverse students were less highly motivated and applied themselves less assiduously than other students, and were more likely to be surface learners and not possess meaning oriented approaches to learning. This clearly would provide some evidence as to the poor academic performance of the students.

In a second study of over 600 students a measure of ADHD (CAARS) was taken and evaluated against a range of assessments, from multiple choice questionnaires, practical reports and statistics assessments to examinations and essay assignments. Although no one assessment method was shown to be strongly linked with poor performance by the group there was a clear deficit in the performance of the students scoring high on ADHD. One possibility is that the range of assessments in psychology and in particular in the United Kingdom is limited in the first two years of a degree to more closed rather than open ended assessment.

One explanation of ADHD is based on evolutionary psychology and proposes that ADHD is simply one end of a continuum where people are more hyperactive, flexible in their attention, and more creative than others. Thus a further study of 180 undergraduate psychology students examined the creativity of neurodiverse students. It was found that neurodiverse students were no worse than other students on a range of creativity tests, and in fact on some measures, such as flexibility and fluency they outperformed the other students. The assessments thus being undertaken in psychology in the UK may not reflect the intellectual competencies that these neurodiverse students may possess.

An additional relevant factor is that in general, unlike for instance dyslexia, the support at University for students who may have ADHD tendencies is almost non existent. This may have de-motivational effects on the students and result in their lack of effort.

To conclude, the extent to which these neurodiverse students are cognitively debilitated is thus questionable, and their poor performance appears to be a result of a combination of lack of support and lack of effort, and/or assessments which do not allow the students to make full use of their other qualities.

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