Cognitive Development in Student Leaders and Non-leaders

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Virginia Tech

This study examined cognitive development in student leaders and non-leaders. Participants included 60 students (30 student leaders and 30 non-leaders). Each group contained equal numbers of males and females. The Measure of Epistemological Reflection (MER) (Baxter Magolda & Porterfield, 1985) was administered to participants to measure certain indicators of cognitive development.

Cognitive development refers to the increase in cognitive complexity that may occur in students during their college years and includes students' ways of making meaning from what they learn. Students' ways of making meaning refers to changes in students' attitudes towards the nature of knowledge and truth. This development can be measured by examining how students learn, make decisions, relate to their teachers and peers, and perceive knowledge.

Analysis of these data revealed that leaders had significantly higher scores than did non-leaders. No gender differences were found, however, and no differences were found when female leaders were compared to female non-leaders or male leaders were compared to male non-leaders.

This research has implications for several groups. First, this study might be useful to student affairs professionals who work with clubs and organizations. The results provided staff with baseline data about leaders' and non-leaders' cognitive reasoning skills. Such information may enable staff to develop purposeful interventions to promote growth in cognitive reasoning skills among student leaders. The results of this study may also be useful for other student affairs professionals who try to enhance their students' cognitive development levels. For example, residential life professionals may find the results of this study interesting. The results provided them with information about cognitive development in student leaders and non-leaders, which they may then compare with their own students' levels of cognitive development. Current students may also be interested in the cognitive reasoning levels of student leaders and non-leaders. They may use these findings to understand their own cognitive development and formulate goals for this development.

Leadership, cognitive development