Research Communications

Cady Fellowship recipient studies the impact of confidence on setting, reaching goals 

By Taylor Evans
Oct. 29, 2012

doctoral student Justin Weinhardt examines how our level of confidence affects the goals we set, our study habits and overall motivation.

He’s the recent recipient of the Cady Fellowship, which is awarded through a competitive nomination process by Ohio University’s Graduate College. Each award provides a fellowship of $14,488, plus a full tuition scholarship for fall and spring semesters.

For his fellowship, Weinhardt is researching ways in which people set goals and work towards them. His focus is on motivation and why it sometimes fluctuates. 

Justin Weinhardt is the most recent recipient of the Cady Fellowship. (Photo provided by Weinhardt.)

Weinhardt and his advisor Jeff Vancouver, a professor of psychology, are pioneering a new way of looking at the data they collect from their experiments. The data will be put into a computational framework, creating a mathematically derived theory that leaves little room for ambiguity for fellow researchers.

“We are the first people to publish computational models in our top premiere journal,” he said. “We are setting the standard, hopefully, for how future research is done.”

The computational model will track how people learn the rate of their progress towards their goals and how they learn to foresee problems that could upset their advancement. Weinhardt will work on refining the model throughout the year, test it and write about the results for a journal publication.

In addition to his fellowship research, Weinhardt is working on a dissertation about overconfidence in education. He plans to give two groups of students different practice exams that are either difficult or easy.  He will then measure their goals and how much they will study, and then will track their performances on the exam.

Weinhardt’s idea for his dissertation came from his teaching experience.

“I wanted to develop some sort of intervention that could get people to maybe not be as confident and therefore study a little more,” said Weinhardt , who also is working on a study about the link between confidence and procrastination.

Ohio University provides the perfect setting for Weinhardt to test his model because students have a diverse set of goals.

“There’s so many different types of goals and motivations that people have; you kind of get all aspects of life,” he said. “People care about school and are motivated about that, but then they also have a lot of social things that they’re interested in. I’m focused on understanding how people balance their social and school/work life.”

Weinhardt’s work was inspired by his father, who taught him that it’s important to always have some self-doubt and not to expect everything to work out.

“I think that made me very prepared to get into graduate school. I didn’t take it as a given that I was going to get in. I was frankly under-confident, and therefore that made me study harder in school and get involved in research as an undergrad,” he said. “I wanted to take that same framework and see if that works for everybody. Would maybe having a little bit of self-doubt motivate people more if they’re not sure they’re able to accomplish the thing that they want?”

Weinhardt will join the University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business as an assistant professor of human resources and organizational dynamics in July.