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Who reads instructions? Exploring instruction-following behaviour.

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Buttner
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding
    Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding

Project Description

We receive a large number of written instructions on a daily basis – as part of our studies (Atwater & Morris, 1988), when taking medication (Kools et al, 2006), in our jobs (Boucheix, 2003) or when using equipment (Catrambone, 1995). Trinkaus’ (2005) finding that even simple instructions are not followed corroborates anecdotal evidence that, for example, some students fail to follow instructions about their assignments, some patients fail to follow medicine-taking instructions, and some users of new equipment fail to read instructions. However, little is known about the circumstances under which people do or don’t follow instructions or the personality factors that may influence it. The instructions literature is sporadic, spanning a number of domains and providing a less than coherent picture with very little systematic empirical evidence. This project will open up a new area in psychology, with very wide potential applications.

Individual differences may well account for some of the instruction-following behaviour that people display. Personality traits such as overconfidence and locus of control might link to reduced willingness to read or follow instructions, and conscientiousness and openness to experience might conversely make people more willing to follow them. Self-esteem and self-efficacy might also play an important role, with people who score highly on these being more willing to engage with instructions than those who do not.

This research project aims in the first instance to:
(1) produce a detailed literature review of instruction following research
(2) develop a new measurement instrument to assess people’s attitude towards, and self-reported behaviours in, following instructions
(3) examine the construct validity of the new instrument in the context of known measures of relevant traits
(4) test the predictive power of the new instrument in a laboratory context

The first two proposed studies might be as follows:
Study 1: Developing a Measure of Instruction-Following Behaviour (MIFB)
We will develop items for the MIFB in a pilot study, using focus groups and literature review. The items will be presented online to a sample of circa 300 people. The dataset will be factor analysed to explore the factor structure and to develop the main scale. We will test the predictive value of the MIFB by correlating the scores against traits we think relevant to instruction-following behaviour, such as overconfidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, personality measures (e.g. locus of control and the BIG 5: Conscientiousness, Openness, Extraversion, Neuroticism and Agreeableness) and working memory span.
Study 2: Exploring the MIFB in the context of instruction use
Participants will be asked to follow a set of instructions in a laboratory context. The instructions will be systematically varied to replicate and expand on previous findings (e.g. use of principles and examples; temporal and spatial distribution of instructions). We will measure participants’ recall as well as comprehension of the instructions, and assess participants’ performance using response times and error rates. We will correlate the results from this study to MIFB scores to examine its predictive validity in the context of instruction use.
Findings from the first two studies will direct the further development of the project.

Funding Notes

Self-funded students may wish to apply.

There are a number of currently open competitive studentship schemes at the University of Birmingham, and students are welcome to discuss their eligibility for these with the supervisor or the PG Admissions Tutor.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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