Creator: Fahrenberg, Jochen
Contributor: Fahrenberg, Jochen
Title: Assumptions about human nature – primary data of a study with students of psychology and other subjects
Year of Publication: 2009
Citation: Fahrenberg, J. (2009). Assumptions about human nature – primary data of a study with students of psychology and other subjects [Translated Title] (Version 1.0.0) [Data and Documentation]. Trier: Center for Research Data in Psychology: PsychData of the Leibniz Institute for Psychology ZPID. https://doi.org/10.5160/psychdata.fgjn05an08
The concept of humanity is an individual pattern of core beliefs about what is human, and the meaning of life, the values and goals that one has for one’s life (or should have). Each person learns and develops assumptions about humanity and takes on much of what is typical of their own families, groups, and communities: sociocultural and religious traditions, values, and answers to basic questions of life. The answers to the question “What is man?” are the pillars of philosophical anthropology, and are the beliefs that should be empirically examined in psychology, especially in differential psychology.
In a previous study, most respondents felt that psychologists’, doctors’, and judges’ beliefs pertaining to the mind-body problem are likely to have consequences regarding their theories, methods, and professional practice (Fahrenberg, 1999). First semester psychology students are ideal candidates for this particular study, because their decision to study psychology and pursuit of a career in psychology are most likely motivated by their interest in people and basic existential questions.
The questionnaire contains 64 questions pertaining to the brain and consciousness, free will, evolution, religion, and interest in the meaning of life, faith, God, theodicy issues, truth, tolerance, and the ultimate justification of morality. The majority of participants are students of psychology at 7 universities in western and eastern Germany (563 participants), as well as students of philosophy, theology, humanities, and the natural sciences in Freiburg. The majority of the respondents are convinced that such philosophical views concerning brain and consciousness (mind-body problem) and free will have important implications for professional practice by psychotherapists, doctors, and judges.
The items were grouped thematically and analyzed using cluster and factor analysis. Important concepts include monism-dualism-complementarities, atheism-agnosticism-deism-theism, attitudes toward transcendence-imminence, self-reports of personal religiosity, and interest in the meaning of life question. Among the students of psychology, few differences were found between men and women and first and middle term students. Significant differences exist, especially pertaining to religiosity, between students in the former West Germany and the former East Germany. The database facilitates (after weighting and controls) quasi-representative statements on the major components of psychology students’ conceptions of humanity and can detect characteristic differences of these concepts compared to those of students of the natural sciences.
Research Questions/Hypotheses: Primarily, this is a descriptive study. A profile was developed concerning the basic beliefs of psychology students in their 1st semester. It was expected that differences would be found between the students in their 1st semester and those in more advanced semesters. 2 specific features – membership in a religious community and a self-designation into a religion – were expected to be marked differences between students from eastern and western Germany, a difference already established in many other representative surveys. Individual foreknowledge concerning the topics of the questionnaire varied, but it was expected that this would have, as in the previous investigation, hardly any influence on the assessment of occupational implications. Significant correlations were expected between (1) views on ontological aspects of epiphenomenalism, monism, dualism, and complementarity, (2) the God belief, or atheism, agnosticism, deism, theism, and (3) attitudes toward transcendence/immanence and (4) to paranormal phenomena. Possible differences between students from different majors (only at the University of Freiburg) were considered.
Research Design: Fully Standardized Survey Instrument (provides question formulation and answer options); single measurement
A preliminary version of the questionnaire was used for teaching new college students to address philosophical and ideological presuppositions using the example of the mind-body problem to address this and to ask about possible consequences of psychology. From these expanded study aims – the desire to include more topics and the aim to identify a structure in the belief systems – the following development tasks for the new questionnaire crystallized: (1) The questionnaire is designed to be equally suitable for students of various majors, but should not require any specialized terminology and does not attempt to provide philosophical clarification concerning the numerous, often difficult, concepts presented within. It should be possible for students to complete with their existing preconceptions (though whether an interest in such philosophical questions exist and whether the participant has already explored these questions should be determined).
(2) The concept of humanity is described in terms of selected central beliefs, though, in addition to simple items, trilemma or content-contrary item pairs and scales will be used.
(3) The educational aspect is to be retained through drawing attention to both common opinions and notable individual differences.
(4) The possible consequences of philosophical presuppositions should be scientifically and critically examined.
(5) It should be methodologically suitable for describing patterns (item clusters or belief systems) and to test correlation hypotheses, for exploration of group differences between students of psychology, philosophy, theology, and science, and for examination of relationships with religion and socio-demographic variables (as well as others). The former questionnaire was accordingly revised, simplified, and extended by including a number of important issues. Concerning topics focused on the human image, subject matter encompasses the brain and consciousness; free will, religion and interest in meaning of life questions; faith in God and atheism; transcendence and immanence; theodicy issues; beliefs about supernatural (paranormal) phenomena; creationism; special position of man in evolution; nature-nurture issues; the meaning of life; Christianity and other religions; truth, tolerance, and the ultimate justification of a moral, multicultural setting. Some topics had graded response options as scales. Within 3 central themes, the issues are presented as a trilemma so that the inconsistencies can be clearly displayed and, following reflection of these, the subject’s own position can be revealed. The beliefs (opinions) concerning the image of man have been formulated as declarative sentences. These statements are to be rated as either true or false. The option to decide between 2 alternative answers was not given in order to avoid a tendency in subjects to respond to questions in the affirmative; however, some answer couples were formulated as opposing theses. Additionally, sentence structure was kept as simple as possible, avoiding double negatives and using as few technical terms and foreign words (placed only in parentheses) as possible.
Data Collection Method:
Data collection in the presence of an experimenter
– Group Administration
Population: (1) Students of psychology taking required undergraduate courses, (2) Students of philosophy, theology, science (physics, chemistry, etc.), humanities taking required undergraduate courses, and (3) psychology students in their 3rd and 5th semesters.
Survey Time Period:
Sample: Convenience sample
71,4 % female subjects (n=567)
28,6 % male subjects (n=227)
Age Distribution: 18-47 years
Spatial Coverage (Country/Region/City): Germany
Subject Recruitment: Lecturers invited participation. The questionnaires were issued by colleagues during various educational events at psychology institutes in the old and new German States.
Sample Size: 796 individuals
Return/DropOut: Department of psychology: Of the approximately 900 event attendees, 713 (83%) participated in the questionnaire survey. Of these, 93 (13%) delivered incomplete questionnaires and were therefore excluded from the statistical analysis. In other departments, of the 305 people who participated in the study, 53 (17%) were excluded from further analysis due to incomplete questionnaires. As the exact numbers concerning attendees of these events was unknown, an exact number concerning the rate of survey return cannot be given. All returned questionnaires were evaluated if they met the specific requirements. To begin with, 4 main items had to be answered: subject’s view concerning the principles of being, the brain-consciousness trilemma, the trilemma question of free will, and the God-question (scale). Also, in the variable range “ENGAGED” to “GLAUB7” and “ÜBERZ1” to “WAHR6”, only a maximum of 4 items could be unanswered.