Background. Though many Russian and foreign studies have been devoted to the study of self-control in educational activity, most of the research has been limited to the use of questionnaires or psychodiagnostic methods. The neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the process of cognitive control in the context of learning have still not been sufficiently understood, despite the obvious significance of controlling action for academic success.
Objective. The purpose of this study is to identify the psychological and neurophysiological features of cognitive control in the process of learning activity, for students with different levels of academic success.
Design. This study investigates the control function in first-year students who have varying degrees of academic success. The research design is interdisciplinary and integrates three different approaches: the neurophysiological, psychological, and pedagogical. In the empirical part, 31 first-year students at Saint Petersburg State University (SPbSU) participated in the research. We measured the personal characteristics of the subjects (using the five-factor personality questionnaire as modified by A.B. Khromov), their self-management ability (Peysakhov’s SMA test), characteristics of the event-related potentials of the brain in response to presentation of stimuli in the solving of problems that require searching for an error in a word (electroencephalographic method), response time, and number of errors and corrections. Four types of stimuli were used: the correct spelling of a word, the replacement of a letter with one that is written similarly or sounds similar, or by one that is not similar. The indicators used to measure academic success were the results of the Unified State Examination (USE) and the first (winter) term of the 2016–17 academic year. The data were analyzed by correlation analysis and analysis of variance.
Results. Comparison of groups of students with lower and higher levels of academic success showed significant differences in all the measured groups of variables — personality traits (Emotionality–Restraint factor), components of the system of self-management (Goal-Setting and Forecasting scales), behavioral data from the experiment (number of corrections), and neurophysiological indicators of cognitive control (the components P200, N200, P300, and N400). The results of the study revealed that students with greater academic success are characterized by less emotionality, a higher capability for goal-setting, and a lower capability for forecasting, as well as greater attention and greater engagement in solving the task of finding mistakes. Such students flexibly distribute their efforts depending on the difficulty of the task and are less likely than the less successful students to change their initial answer to the experimental task.
Conclusion. A high level of development of the self-regulation and self-management system potentially improves the process of finding an error which is necessary for better academic success.
Keywords: cognitive control, self-control, event-related potentials, academic success