The Influence of Student Interactions on College Student Leader Change in Opinion: Differences by Frequency of Involvement
Bennett, Belinda Renee
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Leaders are generally viewed in a positive frame as having the ability to influence and motivate others (Tierney, 2005). They are frequently required to make choices in order to lead their organizations. Those choices are often influenced by the opinions of followers and public opinion in general (McIntosh, Cacciola, Clermont & Keniry, 2001). Understanding the opinion formation process, how leaders formulate opinions and how they make choices in leading their organizations is still at issue (Burns, 1978; Gardner, 1990). One of the goals of higher education is to create student leaders who are contributing members of society and who are able to generate informed opinions. The purpose of this study was to explore the influence of student-student interactions on change of opinion among student leaders (SLs) and non-student leaders (NSLs). This study compared differences between student leaders and non-student leaders, and sought to examine which types of discussions with students different from oneself, best predict change in opinion. Data from the 2004 College Student Experience Questionnaire (CSEQ) (Pace, 1984) were used in the study. The CSEQ asks respondents about their involvement with leadership experiences and the degree to which they have influenced others' opinions and been influenced by others' opinions. Participants also report how often they have become acquainted with or had discussions with other students who are different from themselves based on several characteristics. These characteristics referred to individuals who had different interests, philosophies of life or personal values, political opinions, religious beliefs, race or ethnic backgrounds, family backgrounds or were from different countries. Data were analyzed via logistic regression and t-tests. Findings revealed that discussions with other students who are different from oneself in regards to political values and country of origin lead to higher levels of opinion change. Opinion change, then, is influenced by specific types of discussions, and these discussions have an even greater influence on SLs than NSLs. In addition, highly involved SLs engage in discussions with others different from oneself significantly more often than less involved SLs for each of the seven types of discussions.
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