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Psychological Threat and Problem Solving in Physics: Relations and Effects of Mindfulness Training as an Intervention

Pelakh, Avital (2024) Psychological Threat and Problem Solving in Physics: Relations and Effects of Mindfulness Training as an Intervention. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The first aim of this work was to better understand the relationship between psychological threat—defined as perceived situational demands exceeding perceived coping resources—and accuracy, learning, and perceptions during problem solving. The second aim was to test the effect of mindfulness training on this relationship in the context of undergraduate introductory physics, an environment in which challenges relating to student motivation, retention, and equity are well known. One hundred and forty-nine undergraduates reporting psychological threat in physics were randomly assigned to receive either a 5-day mindfulness training intervention or no training (control). Both groups completed physics problem solving tasks before and directly after the intervention. Accuracy on three types of problem solving as well as momentary perceptions of confidence, anxiety, and difficulty were measured during the tasks at both timepoints. Learning on a preparation for future learning task was also measured after the intervention. Prior to the intervention, psychological threat was positively associated with perceptions of difficulty and anxiety, and negatively associated with perceptions of confidence and accuracy on quantitative and qualitative problem solving. Students assigned to mindfulness training reported lower psychological threat during the intervention, and greater confidence and lower perceptions of difficulty at posttest. However, reduction in psychological threat (measured during the intervention) did not mediate the effects of mindfulness training on confidence and difficulty at posttest. Mindfulness training led to a reduction of anxiety during problem solving for female and non-binary identifying students, and this effect was mediated by psychological threat. We found no effects of mindfulness training on problem solving accuracy or learning outcomes at posttest. We discuss the implications of these results for theories of psychological threat and problem solving.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Pelakh, Avitalavp36@pitt.eduavp360000-0003-1231-2442
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairNokes-Malach,
Committee MemberGalla,
Committee MemberBinning,
Committee MemberFraundorf,
Date: 8 January 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 10 July 2023
Approval Date: 8 January 2024
Submission Date: 21 August 2023
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 116
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: mindfulness, problem solving, physics, intervention
Date Deposited: 08 Jan 2024 17:56
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2024 17:56


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