The effect of Outward Bound high school programs on adolescents' self-concept, mental health, and coping strategies
Supervisor: Mr. B. Heubeck
Honours thesis, Psychology, Australian National University, Canberra, 1994
Chapter 1: Introduction
Adolescence is the transitionary period between childhood and adulthood
(Frydenberg & Lewis, 1991a; Harper & Marshall, 1991). Adolescence encompasses
the physiological changes of puberty - the rapid development of the child into
an adult capable of sexual reproduction (Marieb, 1992). While puberty
underlies adolescence, concurrent psychological and social changes contribute
to make adolescence a crucial developmental stage (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1991a;
Siddique & D'Arcy, 1984) which partially determines the success of adult life
(Compas, 1993; Newcomb, Huba, & Bentler, 1986).A wealth of research has
investigated psychological aspects of adolescence, painting a mixed picture
about the quality of adolescent life (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993a; Nussbaumer,
1988; Siddique & D'Arcy, 1984; Violato & Holden, 1988). The 'classical' view,
which comes from socially oriented literature, sees the lives of adolescents
becoming increasingly grim. For example, the proportion of adolescents growing
up in single-parent families, breaking the law, using drugs, and committing
suicide is reported to be increasing, while academic performance, physical
fitness, and employment are reported to be on the decrease (American Academy
of Pediatrics, 1985; Braungart and Braungart, 1989; Csikszentmihalyi, 1991).
(a) Which psychological processes determine the quality of adolescent life, and
(b) what intervention methodologies can affect them?
The 'self-concept' construct can be dated back over 2000 years to the Greek
philosophers (Hattie, J.A., 1992), to the first century B.C. in Hindu
scripture (Ewert, 1982), or to William James' (1890) "The Principles of
Psychology". Self-concept's rich history has resulted in an abundance of
definitions, models, theories and assessment methodologies. Some 10,910
'self-concept' entries appeared in Psychological Abstracts™ between 1974 and
1992 (Hattie, J. A., 1992). However major reviews have criticized self-concept
research for a lack of consistent and sound theory and poor quality
instrumentation (see Hattie, J. A, 1992; Marsh, 1990, 1992; Marsh, Parker, &
Barnes, 1985; Wylie, 1979).
Mental health, like self-concept, has a long history as a major
psychological construct. Traditionally mental health has been considered as
the absence of mental disorder. More recently, definitions of mental health
have been broadened to include the notion of psychological well-being (Compas,
1993; Schaefer & Moos, 1992; Sleet & Dane, 1985). Today, mental health is
understood as the capacity of an individual to function in ways that promote
their own and others' subjective well-being (Raphael, 1993). The absence of
mental disorder is dependent on an individual's resilience to biological,
psychosocial, and environmental risk factors (Brooks-Gunn & Paikoff, 1993;
Compas, 1993, Raphael, 1993). Resilience can be developed, according to
Schaefer and Moos (1992), by confronting stressful experiences and coping with
them effectively. The concept of well-being refers to an individual's capacity
to experience 'wellness', that is, to enjoy life, experience satisfaction, and
feel optimistic (Veit & Ware, 1983; Wood, Rhodes, & Whelan, 1989). The
inclusion of well-being in the domain of mental health has allowed mental
health assessments to be made of normal populations. Measures of mental
disorder are typically subject to floor effects in normal populations and
hence do not allow for meaningful discrimination of the quality of mental
health (Fry, 1992). Measures of well-being, on the other hand, provide a more
sensitive and discriminating assessment of the quality of mental health for
people relatively free of mental illness (Veit & Ware, 1983). he dimensional
structure of mental health is an ongoing debate.
Studies of coping grew out of research on stress in the 1960s, 1970s, and
1980s (Carpenter, 1992; Frydenberg & Lewis, 1991a). Early approaches to the
theory and measurement of coping were based on Freud's psychodynamic theory
and others were based on ego psychology (Carpenter, 1992). More recently,
following the development of cognitive-appraisal models in stress research,
coping has been explained as an individual's psychological mediation between
the perceived demands of the external world and the perceived needs of the
internal world. Coping refers to all strategies - whether cognitive,
emotional, or physical - that an individual uses to negotiate between their
internal and external environments. Stressors occur all the time, making
continuous demands on individuals' physiological and psychological
systems to adapt (Selye, 1980). Coping is an ongoing process that occurs as
part of everyday life.
Adolescence has been discussed in terms of three psychological constructs - self-concept, mental health, and coping. Attention is now turned to intervention programs and their effects in these key psychological areas.
Self-concept enhancement has been a major aim of numerous psychotherapy and education programs. J. M. Hattie (1992) conducted a meta-analysis of 89 studies (485 effect sizes [ESs]1) which assessed change in self-concept measures as an outcome of intervention programs. Overall, a moderate average ES of .37 was found, with control groups reporting an 'unexpected' non-zero ES of .12. There was considerable variability in ESs between studies. Cognitively-based programs had higher ESs (.47) than affectively-based programs (.12) or non-specific programs (.37). The highest ES of the 16 coded categories was for physically oriented programs (.58), with the sub-category of camps and summer schools, including Outward Bound programs, achieving an ES of .97. This compares favourably with the average effect size of .68 for psychotherapy outcomes (Smith, Glass, & Miller, 1980). Cason and Gillis (1994) conducted a meta-analysis which concentrated on outcomes for outdoor adventure programs for adolescents. Based on 43 studies (235 ESs), a small to medium (see Footnote 2) ES of .31 was reported. When effect sizes were further related to the specific conditions under which the programs are conducted, a more detailed picture emerged:
(a) Adolescents versus Adults. Adolescent self-concept change programs reported lower ESs (.23) than adult programs (.52) in J.M. Hattie's study (1992). Adventure programs conducted for adolescents achieved an ES of .34 for self-concept in Cason and Gillis' (1994) study.
(b) Normal versus Problem-identified Participants. Programs with normal participants achieved lower ESs (.26) than programs with subjects previously identified as having problems (.55) (Hattie, J. M., 1992). For adolescent adventure programs Cason and Gillis (1994) reported no differences in ESs between normal and problem-identified participants.
(c) Program Length. J. M. Hattie (1992) did not find a linear relationship between program length and ES, although this may have been due to the restricted program length categories she used. Residential programs achieved higher ESs (.48) than full day (.21) and half day (.46) programs (Hattie, J.M., 1992). Cason and Gillis (1994) found a significant and positive correlation between program length and ES (r = .174, p < .008).
(d) Setting. Programs that took place in educational settings (i.e. schools and colleges) demonstrated lower ESs (.36) than programs occurring in other settings (.50) (Hattie, J. M., 1992).
(e) Leaders. Therapists (.48) and group leaders (.56) consistently achieved higher results than teachers (.27) (Hattie, J. M., 1992). Smith, et al. (1980) reported higher ESs for psychologists than teachers.
Mental health enhancement programs have used a wide range of methodologies
and have been applied to different populations of adolescents. However, no
clear picture of the effectiveness of these programs can be gained because few
are formally evaluated and those that are evaluated tend to be of poor quality
(Klein, Kotelchuck, & DeFreise, 1990). Compas (1993) surveyed empirical
evaluation studies of adolescent mental health programs. Although he did not
report outcome statistics succeeded in building both the skills to cope with
stress and involvement in personally meaningful activities.
This research review suggests that an intervention program which positively affects the self-concept, mental health, and coping resources of normal adolescents would:
(a) be physically oriented,
(b) use the school context, but outside the school setting,
(c) take place in a residential setting,
(d) be of a long duration,
(e) be conducted by therapists or trained group leaders,
(f) incorporate the aims of adolescents, parents and teachers, and
(g) include teachers, parents and others involved with adolescents as targets in the program.
Given that these characteristics have been associated with positive outcomes, intervention programs which come close to meeting these criteria deserve further research attention.
22.214.171.124. Intervention characteristics
Outward Bound Australia high school programs have five of the seven characteristics and at least some aspects of the other two) associated with effective adolescent intervention programs:
a) A physically oriented program. Outward Bound high school programs use a wilderness expedition format. This involves a developmental series of physically-based activities such as camping, bushwalking, rafting, abseiling/rockclimbing, environmental awareness activities, and communication exercises.
b) Use the school context, but outside the school setting. Outward Bound high school programs are designed and conducted in conjunction with each high school, but take place in an environment completely separate from the school setting.
c) In a residential setting. Outward Bound programs are residential, that is, they involve the students 24 hours a day.
d) For a long duration. Outward Bound high school programs are 9 to 10 days in length.
e) Conducted by therapists or trained group leaders. Outward Bound high school programs are conducted by 'trained group leaders' or, in Outward Bound terminology, instructors. Instructors are selected on the basis of their ability to facilitate personal development using outdoor activities as their learning medium (Outward Bound Australia, 1994e). Outward Bound instructors are trained in-house in the technical skills of outdoor activities and educational techniques for individual and group development.
f) Incorporate the aims of adolescents, parents and teachers. Outward Bound high school programs incorporate the aims of teachers at two levels:
(i) in the initial design of the program by Outward Bound in conjunction with the school, and
ii) by having a high school teacher and an Outward Bound instructor work as a team with each group of students.
The aims of adolescents are incorporated at two levels:
(iii) in the initial design of the program if these aims are recognized and expressed to Outward Bound by the high school, and
iv) by instructors helping the students set individual and group goals and reviewing these goals with the students during the program. The aims of parents are incorporated indirectly through expression of their aims to the high school.
g) Include teachers, parents and others involved with adolescents as
targets in the program. Teachers are included as targets of Outward Bound
high school programs by having them work with Outward Bound instructors and
the students throughout the program. This provides teachers with opportunities
for their own personal development and also to develop closer relationships
with their students. Generally, parents are not included as targets of the
program, although they are invited to an information meeting conducted by a
senior Outward Bound staff member at the high school prior to the program to
help them understand what their son/daughter will do during the Outward Bound
126.96.36.199. Philosophy and practice
Outward Bound Australia school programs involve "total and integrated
programming incorporating physical and adventure based activities, personal
development techniques and academic studies in the field" (Richards, 1977,
p.123). Although Outward Bound programs do not derive from any specific
psychological theory, the basic underlying tenet is that "all forms of growth
in the human being, whether they be physical, psychological, social or
cognitive can be significantly enhanced by the individual engaging himself in
active experiences in these various fields" (Richards, 1977, p.37). The impact
is further enhanced by the "great interdependence of these variables evidenced
in Outward Bound" (Richards, 1977, p.37).
188.8.131.52. Aims and objectives
The stated objectives for Outward Bound Australia school programs are to provide a learning environment which:
(a) improves confidence, increases self-esteem and develops maturity,
(b) develops teamwork, co-operation, effective communication and understanding,
(c) stimulates interpersonal skills and leadership development,
(d) focuses resourcefulness, initiative, self-reliance and capacity to adapt to change,
(e) encourages continuing personal development and goal setting,
(f) challenges the individual to cope with change, overcome difficulties and build on their strengths,
(g) creates real life experiences which complement and reinforce the learning from within the classroom, and \
(h) develops a rapport between staff and students not readily attainable in a school environment (Outward Bound Australia, 1994c).
A pilot study conducted by Neill (1994) clarified the aims of Outward Bound high school programs from the perspectives of Outward Bound instructors and accompanying high school teachers. Fourteen instructors and thirteen teachers were surveyed with regard to their overall objectives as well as the particular self-concept dimensions and coping strategies which they aimed to influence during Outward Bound high school programs. The picture emerged that some dimensions were high priority whereas other dimensions where considered low priority. The self-concept dimensions which instructors and teachers identified Outward Bound high school programs as aiming to enhance were: Physical Abilities, Physical Appearance, Single-Sex Relations, Honesty-Trustworthiness, Emotional Stability, and General Self (Marsh, 1990). The coping strategies which instructors and teachers aimed to encourage on Outward Bound high school programs were: Social Support, Focus on Solving the Problem, Work hard and Achieve, Focusing on the Positive, Physical Recreation, and Social Action (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993a). The coping strategies which instructors and teachers aimed to discourage were: Worrying, Seeking to Belong, Wishful thinking, Not Coping, Tension Reduction, Ignoring the Problem, Self-Blame, and Keeping to Self (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993a).
184.108.40.206. Past research
Outward Bound's eclectic theoretical basis presents a significant challenge
to the serious researcher. The majority of research on Outward Bound and
outdoor education has used a "black box" approach, focusing on program
outcomes and ignoring their relationship to process issues (Cason & Gillis,
1994; Ewert, 1987; Outward Bound Australia, 1994d; Shore, 1977). Research on
Outward Bound high school programs has been inconclusive. Spinaze (1986)
conducted a pre-post program evaluation of the effects of a 9 day Outward
Bound program for 29 Year 11 boys using the Tennessee Self-Concept instrument,
finding statistically non-significant gains for each scale, with no followup
or control group. Nussbaumer (1988) investigated the effects of different
outdoor education programs, including two Outward Bound high school programs
with female students, on physical self-concept. One of the Outward Bound high
school programs (N = 176) found a significant gain in overall physical
self-concept compared to the control group, a change which was sustained at a
three month followup. There was no reported change in overall physical
self-concept for the second Outward Bound high school program (N = 59). One
consistent finding from Nussbaumer's study was a significant main effect for
time for experimental and control groups. Unfortunately two-way interaction
analyses between time and experimental condition were not reported for the
physical self-concept sub-scales, leaving further questions about differential
rates of change for the experimental and control groups unanswered.
J. M. Hattie (1992) expressed concern over the quality of studies available
for inclusion in her meta-analysis. From an original pool of 650 self-concept
change studies, only 89 reported basic outcome statistics (e.g., N, mean,
standard deviation) from which an ES could be calculated. Of these 89 studies,
10 studies used control groups and 4 studies conducted followup assessments.
In other words, less than 1% of the original pool of self-concept change
studies used an experimental or quasi-experimental design and reported basic
followup statistics. This is particularly disturbing in the light of J. M.
Hattie's finding that control groups exhibit a non-zero ES (.12). In addition,
there is evidence that pre-post testing conducted immediately before and after
a program is subject to distorting that self-report scores measured
immediately prior to an intervention tend be depressed because of the
proximity of anticipated situational demands. Marsh, Richards, and Barnes
(1986a, 1986b) discussed the phenomenon of post-group euphoria, temporary
elation at the end of intervention, which can inflate post-test scores. These
contextual pre-post effects may to explain Cason & Gillis' (1994) finding that
less empirically sound studies were more likely to have more positive
(a) use outcome measures with established reliability and validity,
(b) match outcome measures to program objectives,
(c) use control groups (or establish a baseline through time series design) and followup assessments, and
d) report standardized statistics.
The ultimate aim of adopting these measures is for intervention
This review of psychological constructs related to adolescence reveals some
unresolved issues. Adolescence is understood as a developmental period which
involves a number of stressors. Although adolescence is experienced reasonably
well on the whole, many researchers suggest a need to help develop
adolescents' ability to deal with these stressors.
The present study investigated an adolescent intervention program which closely matched the characteristics associated with relatively high outcome effects in order to:
(a) determine what outcomes are achieved by an intervention program currently being applied to thousands of Australian adolescents,
(b) investigate whether or not there are causal relationships between the outcomes and the intervention program,
(c) shed light on the susceptibility of self-concept, mental health, and well-being to positive change,
(d) demonstrate use of key research design elements required to make sound conclusions about intervention program effects, and
(e) make a contribution to Outward Bound program philosophy and practice.
Based on the observation that Outward Bound high school programs exhibit a number of characteristics associated with effective self-concept enhancement programs, it was hypothesized that: 'There will be an improvement in Outward Bound participants' overall self-concept compared to any changes in the control group.'
According to multi-dimensional self-concept models, some self-concept
dimension scores can change while others remain the same (Hattie, J. A., 1992;
Marsh, 1990). Based on the Outward Bound high school program objectives
(Outward Bound Australia, 1994c) and programs, it appears that the programs
aim to affect some dimensions of self-concept more directly than others.
Consequently it was hypothesized that:
'There will be no change in the self-concept of Outward Bound participants in the areas of parent relations, math, verbal, general school, and opposite sex relations (Marsh, 1990) compared to any changes in the control group.'
The Outward Bound high school programs exhibit a number of promotion programs (Compas, 1993). Consequently it was hypothesized that: 'There will be an increase in Outward Bound participants' mental health compared to any changes in the control group.'
Empirical research has demonstrated that mental health can be considered to have two underlying factors, psychological distress and psychological well-being (Veit & Ware, 1983). Consistent with Hypothesis 2a, it was hypothesized that: 'There will be a decrease in Outward Bound subjects' psychological distress compared to any changes in the control group.'
Following Hypothesis 2b, it was hypothesized that: 'There will be an increase in Outward Bound participants' psychological well-being compared to any changes in the control group.'
For normal populations, measures of psychological distress are likely to be subject to floor effects, whereas measures of psychological well-Ware, 1983). Given that Outward Bound high school programs are conducted with normal adolescents, it was hypothesized that: 'There will be a greater improvement in Outward Bound participants' compared to any changes in the control group.'
Based on the Outward Bound high school program objectives and the pilot study conducted on the aims of Outward Bound instructors and accompanying high school teachers (Neill, 1994), it appears that the programs aim to increase adolescents' use of certain coping strategies, decrease the use of some coping strategies, and not to change the use of other coping strategies. Consequently, it was hypothesized that: 'Outward Bound participants will report using different amounts of various coping strategies after the Outward Bound program compared to any changes in the control group'.
As an extension of Hypothesis 3a, it was hypothesized that: 'There will be an increase in reported use of coping strategies which relate to social support, problem solving, working hard and achieving, focusing on the positive, physical recreation, and social action (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993a) for Outward Bound participants compared to any changes in the control group'.
As an extension of hypothesis 3a, it was hypothesized that: 'There will be a decrease in reported use of coping strategies which relate to worrying, seeking to belong, wishful thinking, not coping, tension reduction, ignoring the problem, self-blame, and keeping to self (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993a) for Outward Bound participants compared to any changes in the control group'.
As an extension of hypothesis 3a, it was hypothesized that: 'relate to investing in close friends, spiritual support, seeking professional help, and seeking relaxing diversions (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993a) for Outward Bound participants compared to any changes in the control group'.