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Looking Up Can Bring You Down

Discusses how the use role models may affect a person. Findings of a study on how the first-year and graduate students at the University of Waterloo felt about comparison with successful people.

Can role models be a bad influence? Young people, especially girls andminorities, are often encouraged to emulate people who have succeeded in the fields they wish to enter. New research from the University of Waterloo, however, suggests that in some cases the use of role models could harm as much as it helps.

Waterloo's Ziva Kunda, Ph.D., designed a study in which the accomplishments of extremely successful teachers were described to first-year and graduate students at her university (all of whom hoped to become professors themselves). She found that the freshmen were indeed inspired by the teachers' example,, since they felt they had years of schooling ink before them to achieve what their role models had. The graduate students, on the other hand, felt their self-esteem and motivation drop after they heard a story about a successful peer. They felt bad about the comparison, they told researchers, because they had not achieved as much, and time to do so was now running out. The model strategy, concludes Kunda, is to choose your mentor well--and early.

PHOTO (COLOR): Looking Up Can Bring You Down