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Shifting Focus: A New Theory Explaining Harmful Overconfidence in Students
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Students are often overconfident (or otherwise metacognitively inaccurate) about how they will perform on exams, a condition that can have negative consequences for students as they may stop studying prematurely and perform poorly on tests. Interventions designed to improve student metacognition have had mixed results, and poor transference, potentially because researchers do not completely understand why students have poor metacognition. Preliminary data show one reason why interventions might not transfer to later tests, students become less confident after taking tests, but regain their confidence over just 10 minutes. Because no information was introduced during those 10 minutes, participants must have changed the way in which they were thinking about their past and/or future test performance, a “Shifting Focus” Effect. I propose that students’ confidence follows a similar Shifting Focus pattern between class exams, potentially because motivations erode rational metacognitive judgements over time. The current dissertation was designed to accomplish two goals: to replicate the Shifting Focus effect in classroom and laboratory conditions, and to investigate its causes as well as test ameliorative interventions. Experiments 1-3 replicated preliminary findings suggesting a “Shifting Focus” Effect across a variety of conditions, and although my prior research indicates that students are motivated to think positively about their future, evidence connecting motivations to rising confidence was inconclusive. Experiments 4-5 tested interventions designed to prevent the Shifting Focus Effect. Results indicate that rising overconfidence in students may be prevented through minimalistic interventions in normal classroom settings, and may even improve test grades.
Saenz, Gabriel Diego (2019). Shifting Focus: A New Theory Explaining Harmful Overconfidence in Students. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from