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From Beijing: Academic Enthusiasm!

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Originally posted on November 11, 2014.

A  recent Beijing visit left me marveling at students’ academic enthusiasm.  In explaining Asian students’ outperformance of North American students, researchers have documented cultural differences in conscientiousness. Asian students spend more time in school and much more time studying (and see here for one recent study of the academic diligence of Asian-Americans).

The Beijing experience gave me several glimpses of this culture difference in achievement drive and eagerness to learn.  For example, as I dined more than a half hour before speaking at the Peking University psychology department, word came that 160 students were already present.  After my talk in the overfilled auditorium (below), student hands across the room were raised, with some waving hands or standing up, pleading to be able to ask their questions.  And this was a Friday evening.


Later that weekend, I met with teachers of AP psychology, whose students at select Beijing high schools pay to take AP courses in hopes of demonstrating their capacity to do college-level work in English, and thus to gain admission to universities outside China.  Several of the teachers were Americans, one of whom chuckled when explaining that, unlike in the USA, she sought to demotivate her overly motivated students, encouraging them to lighten up and enjoy life.

The plural of these anecdotes of culture difference is not data. (My China sample was biased—high achieving students who had gained admission to the most elite schools.) But the experiences, which replicated what I experienced in a 2008 visit to Beijing, were memorable.

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About the Author
David Myers received his psychology Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He has spent his career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has taught dozens of introductory psychology sections. Hope College students have invited him to be their commencement speaker and voted him "outstanding professor." His research and writings have been recognized by the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, by a 2010 Honored Scientist award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, by a 2010 Award for Service on Behalf of Personality and Social Psychology, by a 2013 Presidential Citation from APA Division 2, and by three dozen honorary doctorates. With support from National Science Foundation grants, Myers' scientific articles have appeared in three dozen scientific periodicals, including Science, American Scientist, Psychological Science, and the American Psychologist. In addition to his scholarly writing and his textbooks for introductory and social psychology, he also digests psychological science for the general public. His writings have appeared in four dozen magazines, from Today's Education to Scientific American. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see For his leadership, he received an American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award in 2011, and the Hearing Loss Association of America Walter T. Ridder Award in 2012. He bikes to work year-round and plays daily pick-up basketball. David and Carol Myers have raised two sons and a daughter, and have one granddaughter to whom he dedicates the Third Edition of Psychology in Everyday Life.