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Graduate cooperative groups: role of perfectionism.


The purpose of this investigation was to examine the role of perfectionism in predicting performance of cooperative groups in graduate-level research methodology courses. Findings revealed that cooperative groups that attained the highest scores on an article critique assignment, on average, tended to be those that reported having the highest levels of socially prescribed perfectionism and the lowest levels of other-oriented perfectionism. In addition, these groups tended to be the most homogeneous with respect to self-oriented perfectionism and other-oriented perfectionism, and the least homogenous with respect to socially prescribed perfectionism. Findings suggest graduate students' levels of perfectionism play a role in determining cooperative group outcomes.


Cooperative learning is utilized in one form or another by many instructors at the elementary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. This teaching method involves the instructional use of small groups in which students work together either formally or informally in order to promote their own learning, as well as the learning of their fellow group members (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991a). Two prominent theories have emerged in the area of cooperative learning. First, Slavin (1994) proposed a two-element theory of cooperative learning consisting of positive interdependence and individual accountability. This was followed one year later by Johnson, Johnson, and their colleagues (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1993; Johnson et al., 1991a; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991b), who advocated a five-component theory of cooperative learning. According to their model, the following five elements are essential for maximizing the success of cooperative learning groups: (a) positive interdependence, (b) face-to-face promotive interaction, (c) individual accountability, (d) social skills, and (e) group processing.

Cooperative learning has received much attention among researchers at the elementary and secondary school levels. Many of these studies have involved comparing cooperative learning conditions to competitive and/or individualistic learning environments with respect to an array of educational outcomes.

Although the use of cooperative learning techniques among college instructors has increased in recent years, researchers have not evaluated this mode of instruction to the same degree as they have at the public school level (Slavin, 1989, 1991). Even fewer studies have been conducted at the graduate level (Onwuegbuzie, Collins, & Elbedour, in press). Thus, clearly, more research is needed. Indeed, Onwuegbuzie et al. (in press) recommended more empirical-based investigations be conducted involving graduate students utilizing groups themselves as the unit of analysis rather than the individuals. The reason for this is that the latter increases the possibility of the statistical independence being violated and systematic error being created (McMillan, 1999; Onwuegbuzie, in press). In particular, more quantitative and qualitative studies are needed that examine the characteristics of groups with the highest and lowest levels of performance (Onwuegbuzie & Collins, 2002). Therefore, the overall goal of the present research study was to examine the role of perfectionism as a characteristic impacting the performance of cooperative learning groups. Indeed, one feature of some cooperative learning groups that was identified in Onwuegbuzie and DaRos-Voseles's (2001) qualitative inquiry was a low tolerance for substandard work. That is, some groups displayed higher levels of perfectionism than did the other groups. However, Onwuegbuzie and DaRos-Voseles were not able to investigate whether level of perfectionism of the groups was a predictor of group outcomes.

Perfectionism has been described as a multidimensional phenomenon comprising both personal and social elements. Specifically, Hewitt and Flett (1991a) have identified three dimensions of the perfectionistic personality style, namely: self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed perfectionism. Hewitt and Flett (1991a) define self-oriented perfectionism as an intrapersonal dimension distinguished by a strong internal motivation to be perfect. Apparently, self-oriented perfectionists tend to set and to pursue rigid and unrealistically high standards for themselves, and to undertake stringent self-appraisal in an attempt to attain perfectionism and to avoid failure (Hewitt & Flett, 1991a, 1991b). Other-oriented perfectionists hold unrealistic standards for significant others, place importance on other individuals being perfect, and exactingly evaluate others' behavior. Thus, other-oriented perfectionism is similar to self-oriented perfectionism, the major difference being that the expectation of perfect performance is directed toward others. Socially prescribed perfectionists believe significant others (e.g., friends, family, professors, classmates) hold unrealistic standards for them, rigorously evaluate them, and pressure them to be perfect.

In conclusion, the reviewed literature indicates there is limited empirical research investigating the efficacy of cooperative learning techniques (Onwuegbuzie et al., in press) and the degree that group characteristics impact graduate students' performance in cooperative groups (Onwuegbuzie & Collins, 2002). To address these limitations, this investigation assessed the role of perfectionism as a characteristic influencing graduate students' performance while engaged in cooperative groups. Utilizing Hewitt and Flett's (1991a) conceptualization, the first purpose of the study was to determine which of the three dimensions of perfectionism (i.e., self-oriented, other-oriented, socially prescribed) best predicted the achievement levels of cooperative learning groups. The second purpose was to determine whether the levels of homogeneity of groups, with respect to the dimensions of perfectionism, predicted levels of group performance. It was hoped that by focusing on these identified limitations and utilizing graduate students as the sample, findings from the current investigation would add to the body of knowledge in the area of cooperative learning.



Participants were 109 graduate students from a number of disciplines (e.g., early childhood, elementary education, middle grades, secondary education, psychology) who were enrolled in 5 sections of an introductory-level research methodology course at a midsouthern university. These students formed 31 groups ranging in size from 2 to 5 (M = 3.58, SD = 0.99). The same instructor taught all sections of the research methodology course, thereby minimizing any implementation threat to internal validity resulting from differential selection of instructors (Onwuegbuzie, in press).


Graduate students enrolled in educational degree programs were required to take the introductory-level research methodology course. The semester-long (i.e., 16-week) research methodology course involved classes that took place once per week for three hours. The fact that all classes were held at the same time in the evening (i.e., 5 pm to 8 pm) minimized any implementation threat to internal validity resulting from differential time of day (Onwuegbuzie, in press).

Article critique. A major course requirement that was undertaken via cooperative learning groups involved a detailed written critical evaluation of a published research report (i.e., article critique). The primary goal of the article critique was to provide an opportunity for students to develop skills in evaluating published research articles utilizing principles of the scientific method.

Formation of cooperative learning groups. On the first day of class, students were asked to introduce themselves to the class, delineating their major, educational attainments and aspirations, current professional status, and interests. Following these introductions, students were asked to form groups comprising three to six students. Group formation was guided by asking students to choose group members based on similar majors, professional background, and proximity to each other's homes. These criteria for group assignment were not directly related to aptitude or ability. Such assignment of groups by preferences is referred to as a modified stratified random assignment (Johnson & Johnson, 2002).

Base groups. The cooperative learning group utilized involved the use of base groups (Smith, Johnson, & Johnson, 1994). The aim of these base groups was to promote stable membership whose foremost responsibility was to provide each member of the group the support, encouragement, and assistance as needed to comprehend course content. In addition, the cohesiveness provided by membership in the group was (a) to promote the successful completion of the course assignments and (b) to prepare students for the in-class individual examinations. Students were encouraged to stay together during the entire course. Additionally, students were expected to take notes and distribute any instructor handouts to group members who were unable to attend a class session. Each base group undertook one research proposal and one article critique. However, for the purposes of the present study, only the article critique scores were analyzed.


The Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS) was selected for the present study. The MPS (Hewitt & Flett, 1991a) is a 45-item, 7-point Likert-format instrument designed to measure three dimensions of perfectionism: self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed. A high score on any subscale represents a tendency to be perfectionistic on the dimension measured by that scale. For the current investigation, scores pertaining to the self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed subscalas yielded reliability coefficients of .85, .86, and .85, respectively.

Scoring rubrics were used to evaluate the article critiques (Wilson & Onwuegbuzie, 1999), with detailed feedback provided by the professor. To promote positive interdependence, students received group scores for these assignments. Although reliability data pertaining to students' rubric scores were not available for the present inquiry, rubric scores attained by other graduate samples have been found to significantly predict whether graduate students completed their dissertations (Onwuegbuzie, 2001). For the article critique, students were evaluated on (a) a written summary of a selected research article, (b) a detailed analysis of the quality of the selected article, and (c) the quality of their writing as demonstrated by adherence to APA guidelines and the extent to which the article critique was free from grammatical and typographical errors.

The first rubric consisted of a 5-point Liken-format scale (1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neutral, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree). This rubric was designed to provide a score for the students' written summary of the article in accordance to a scale containing 35 items (e.g., "The conceptual/theoretical framework is summarized adequately"), such that scores ranged from 35 to 175. The second rubric was designed to evaluate students' analytical skills by their response to a 150-item reviewer checklist containing statements regarding the quality of the research methodology described in the article. The second rubric used the same 5-point Likert-format scale that was designed to assess how accurately the 150-item reviewer checklist described above was completed. Each response on the reviewer checklist was rated on the 5-point Likert-format scale, such that the second rubric contained 150 items, whose scores range from 150 to 750. The third rubric, also the 5-point Likert-format scale, was designed to assess the narrative for the critique section of the article. This rubric contained 50 items for evaluation of all components of the critique section (i.e., title, abstract, introduction/literature review, methodology, results, discussion), such that scores ranged from 50 to 300.

Students' scores from the three rubrics were converted into percentages. From these percentages, a final score was derived using the following weighting scheme: 35% for the summary rubric, 25% for the reviewer checklist, and 40% for the critique narrative. Thus, each article critique received a group score on a 100-point scale. Because of the length of the rubrics, each article critique took between six and seven hours to score.


For each group, the mean and standard deviations pertaining to the self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed subscale scores of the MPS were computed. This generated six scores (three means and three standard deviations) for each group. An all possible subsets multiple regression analysis (Onwuegbuzie & Daniel, 2002) was then conducted using the article critique score as the dependent variable and the six MPS-based scores as the independent variables. Group was used as the unit of analysis.


The selected multiple regression model contained the following five MPS-based variables: (a) mean of socially prescribed perfectionism scores, (b) mean of other-oriented perfectionism scores, (c) standard deviation (i.e., level of heterogeneity) of self-oriented perfectionism scores, (d) standard deviation of other-oriented perfectionism scores, and (e) standard deviation of socially prescribed perfectionism scores. These variables combined explained 41.9% of the variance, which is very large according to Cohen's (1988) criteria. An inspection of the standardized residuals generated from the four-variable model revealed that the assumptions of normality, linearity, and constancy were met. Further, no outliers were indicated, nor was any evidence of multicollinearity suggested.

More specifically, the multiple regression model revealed the following five relationships: First, groups that attained the highest scores on the article critique, on average, tended to be those that reported having the highest levels of socially prescribed perfectionism and the lowest levels of other-oriented perfectionism. Second, a low level of other-oriented perfectionism was associated with graduate students' performance in cooperative learning groups. Third, higher-performing groups tended to be the most homogeneous with respect to self-oriented perfectionism. Fourth, higher-performing groups tended to be the most homogeneous with respect to other-oriented perfectionism. Finally, higher-performing groups tend to be the least homogenous (i.e., most heterogeneous) with respect to socially prescribed perfectionism.


The investigation's first purpose was to examine the role of perfectionism in predicting performance of cooperative groups in graduate-level research methodology courses. Results indicate that within the context of working cooperatively, socially prescribed perfectionism (importance of the expectation of significant others, such as group members) appears to play an important role in elevating the quality of a group's performance. Thus, it is likely that socially prescribed perfectionism may boost the individual member's accountability to the group as be or she complies with perceptions of the standards held by other group members. This finding substantiates the importance of individual accountability--a key element in the theory of cooperative learning as a factor impacting group performance. Results also indicate that group performance is impacted by individuals' expectations of perfect performance directed toward others (other-oriented perfectionism). This finding implies that group dynamics are enhanced and there are less opportunities for conflict when an individual does not have overly perfectionistic standards pertaining to the performance of other group members.

The study's second purpose was to assess the degree that levels of homogeneity with respect to dimensions of perfectionism impacted group performance. Findings indicate group members sharing a similar standard pertaining to the object to whom the perfectionistic behavior is aimed (self-oriented vs. other-oriented) experience less ambiguity about each group member's acceptable level of performance, including her/his own level. Therefore, a similar standard of perfectionism shared by members appears to promote group cohesiveness leading to a higher group performance. Lastly, findings suggest groups reflecting diversity with respect to socially prescribed perfectionism (to whom the perfectionistic behavior is attributed) optimize performance by limiting group conflict as members negotiate unrealistic standards held by a majority of group members. These combined findings are consistent with all five elements defining the theory of cooperative learning (Johnson et al., 1993, Johnson et al., 1991a, 1991b). Therefore, when forming cooperative learning groups involving graduate students, in addition to group size and composition (Johnson & Johnson, 2002; Onwuegbuzie et al., in press), instructors also should consider the potential impact of students' perfectionistic tendencies on the quality of the group product.


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Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2001). Criterion-related validity of checklists and rubrics in educational research courses. Unpublished manuscript, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (in press). Expanding the framework of internal and external validity in quantitative research. Research in the Schools.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Collins, K. M. T. (2002, April). Performance of cooperative learning groups in graduate-level educational research courses: The role of social interdependence. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Collins, K. M. T., & Elbedour, S. (in press). Aptitude by treatment interactions and Matthew effects in graduate-level cooperative learning groups. Journal of Educational Research.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Daniel, L. G. (2002). Uses and misuses of the correlation coefficient. Research in the Schools, 9, 73-90.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & DaRos-Voseles, D. A. (2001). The role of cooperative learning in research methodology courses: A mixed-methods analysis. Research in the Schools, 8, 61-75.

Slavin, R. E. (1989). Research on cooperative leaming: Consensus and controversy. Educational Leadership, 47, 52-54.

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Slavin, R. E. 0994). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice (2rid ed.). Boston: New Jersey: Allyn & Bacon.

Smith, K., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1994). Cooperative learning and positive change in higher education. In A. Goodsell, M. Maher, & V. Tinto (Eds.), Collaborative learning: A sourcebook for higher education (pp. 34-36). University Park, PA: National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

Wilson, V. A., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (1999, November). Improving achievement and student satisfaction through criteria-based evaluation: Checklists and rubrics in educational research courses. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association, Point Clear, AL. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 436 569)

Denise A. DaRos-Voseles, Northeastern State University Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, Howard University Kathleen M. T. Collins, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

DaRos-Voseles is an assistant professor. Onwuegbuzie is an associate professor. Collins is an assistant professor.
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Author:Collins, Kathleen M.T.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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