Gender differences in student optimism

Health Scan: BGU research finds that optimism can lead male students to be overconfident and to neglect their studies.

Ben Gurion University (photo credit: Dani Machlis/ BGU)
Ben Gurion University
(photo credit: Dani Machlis/ BGU)
Optimism can be a good thing for women students, while in their male counterparts, it can lead them to be overconfident and to neglect their studies, according to new research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
Tamar Icekson, a doctoral student in its department of business administration, who was directed by Prof. Ayala Malach-Pines and Prof. Oren Kaplan at the School of Business Administration at the College of Management, examined the attitudes and grades of 174 BGU undergraduates. They found that female students who were more optimistic achieved significantly higher grades than their less optimistic compatriots, but in men, it had a harmful effect and led to disappointing grades. Icekson and Kaplan, who presented their findings at the International Conference of Positive Psychology in the summer, focus their research on the effect of positive emotions and thinking on behavior.
“Optimism in male students can lead to overconfidence or an attitude of ‘Things will work out for the best,’” Icekson says, “So instead of studying enough for a test, they go out and have a barbecue the night before. Those male students who scored as most optimistic got the lowest grades. For men, optimism tempered by conscientiousness produced the best results.” However, there was no correspondingly high rate of conscientiousness among female students because it wasn’t necessary to achieve higher grades, according to Icekson.“For female students, optimism alone was beneficial because they’re naturally more conscientious than their male counterparts,” she says.
“Women have lower self-esteem; if they are not sure things will work out, then they study for the test.”
Each participant completed an anonymous selfreport questionnaire, for which extra course credit was awarded. Optimism was assessed using a test with 10 items, such as: “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best,” and “If something can go wrong for me, it will.”
Icekson now plans to study the role of optimism among managers, with a focus on gender differences.
PROMISING DIABETES TRIALS An experimental injectable drug for Type I diabetes, developed by Prof. Irun Cohen and colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, has shown much promise by meeting primary and secondary goals of Phase III clinical trials. Called DiaPep277, the unique peptide, containing 24 amino acids, is derived from the sequence of the human heat shock protein 60 (Hsp60). The peptide acts by modulating the immune system, preventing the destruction of the pancreatic cells that secrete insulin and preserving their natural function.
The multicenter clinical trial tested the drug on 457 patients, aged 16 to 45, who had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes a short time before joining the trial. The trial took place in around 40 medical centers in Europe, Israel and South Africa. One group received the trial drug through a subcutaneous injection once every three months, for a period of two years, while the control group was given a placebo in the same way.
The developers of the drug believe it may have several medical benefits: slowing the deterioration of the diseased tissue, improved metabolic control, a reduction in daily insulin requirements and fewer complications of diabetes. During the trial, the ability of the patients’ pancreas to secrete insulin was tested. From an initial analysis of the results, it appears that the patients treated with the drug for a year or more had significantly higher pancreas function than those in the control group. No significant differences were found in the incidence of side effects between the treated and control groups. Additional data on the drug’s efficacy and safety were collected and evaluated, and these will be presented in a final report on the trial, which will be completed in several months.
Andromeda Biotech, which bought the rights, is now planning to conduct another trial to try to reproduce these results. Recruitment of patients into this trial is expected to be finalized in the second quarter of 2012. The R&D team at Andromeda Biotech emphasize that the drug is still under development, and there is no absolute guarantee that the drug will eventually be marketed.