Funded Research

The following research projects have been completed, reviewed and approved for final grant funding from THE FIELD PSYCH TRUST. They contribute to the further development of Perceptual (Field) Psychology in relation to the research and writings of Arthur W. Combs and we are pleased to make you aware of their existence.

Julie D. Whitis (2017).  A Comparison of Educator Dispositions to Student Responses on the Kentucky Student Voice Survey.  A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership at Northern Kentucky University.


The primary purpose of this study was to determine if a correlation exists between teacher dispositions, grounded in Perceptual Psychology, and student results on the Kentucky Student Voice Survey (KSVS), a 25-question survey adapted from Cambridge Education’s Tripod survey.  A correlation was found between teacher dispositions and KSVS question number 25 which states “My teacher gives us time to explain our ideas.”
Except for this question, no correlation was found between teacher dispositions and KSVS results.

Limitations of this research include teacher sample size (N=16) and the fact that student responses for each teacher came from only one of the several classes each teacher taught.  A larger sample size and/or greater number of student responses relative to individual teachers in the sample pool might have produced greater discrimination that indicated significant correlations with other survey questions. In addition, it was assumed that the KSVS was measuring teacher dispositions.  A further analysis, however, suggests the questions may be more apt to measure teacher skills and methods than teacher dispositions (e.g., values, attitudes and beliefs about teachers).

The study does provide support for the value of teachers listening to their students’ ideas if they want to be perceived as effective by their students.  It also underscores the importance of teachers being provided with experiences that can enable them to develop the dispositions of highly effective teachers.

Jason Glenn Willis (2015).  Exploring the Dispositions of Effective University Police Officers.  A dissertation submitted to the faculty of Northern Kentucky University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Educational Leadership.

[NOTE:  While doctoral dissertations are expected to break new ground in our understanding of matters of consequence, this one comes along at a time in our society when its focus and findings have particular relevance to an ongoing national conversation about how police officers handle their responsibilities.]


The primary purpose of this study was to determine if effective university police officers differ from less effective university police officers based on their perceptions (or “dispositions”).  The study is grounded in Perceptual Psychology theory (Combs, Richards, & Richards, 1976) and in a conceptualization of policing as one of the “helping” professions (Combs & Gonzalez, 1994).  According to Perceptual theory,  behavior is an expression of perceptions or dispositions.  And because core perceptions are formed over a life-time and change slowly, a person’s behavior can be predicted if one can determine four general dimensions of perceptual characteristics.  These have been used successfully in distinguishing effective professional helpers from ineffective helpers in other lines of work (Wasicsko, 2008).  The perceptual dimensions used in this study to measure university police officer effectiveness or ineffectiveness were the following:

  1. Perceptions of self:  How individuals view self in relation to others.  Combs and Gonzalez (1994) found that good helpers are always concerned about how things look from the point of view of those they are helping.  Poor helpers, in comparison, are only concerned with how things look to themselves.
  2. Perceptions of others.  Effective helpers see the positive resources in people and believe that all persons have the capacity to deal with their own issues.  A less effective helper in terms of a university police officer would view all college students as troublemakers, despite the reality that only a small percentage of the overall student population actually causes problems on campus.
  3. Perceptions of purpose.  More effective helpers believe there is a greater meaning behind their work.  They have a clearer, well-established and big-picture idea of their mission as professional helpers.  Less effective helpers focus more on manipulating, directing, and controlling others in terms of rather narrowly-conceived objectives, policies, and procedures.
  4. Frame of reference as people-oriented.  Effective helpers are concerned with the human aspects of the situation and the welfare of people is a prime consideration in their thinking and efforts at resolving problems.  Ineffective helpers are concerned with impersonal, typically procedural, aspects of the situation.

Participants in this study came from state university police departments in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and a university in Cincinnati, OH. Chiefs of police were asked to submit only the names and contact information of 5 officers who could be considered effective and 5 who would be considered less effective in their departments based on the following statement about the role of the university police officer:

The effective police officer successfully and consistently balances the appropriate enforcement of the law and the principles associated with the community oriented policing philosophy (service, education/crime prevention, building partnerships, problem solving) in order to contribute to student success and advance the overall mission of the university.  In turn, a less effective university police officer fails to successfully and consistently balance the appropriate enforcement of law and the principles associated with the community oriented policing philosophy.  The less effective officer doesn’t always approach assigned duties with student success and the university’s mission as a priority.

When providing their assessment of officers meeting these criteria, police chiefs did NOT designate to the researcher any indication of which officers were considered effective and which less effective.

Differences between the dispositions of effective and less effective university police officers in this study were measured utilizing officer Human Relations Incident (HRI) interviews.  The HRI that prompted officer responses included the following instructions:

I would like you to think of a significant past event that involved yourself in a
helping role as a university police officer with one or more other persons.  That
is, from a human relations standpoint, this event had special meaning for you.

In speaking about this event, please use the following format:

  • First, describe the situation as it occurred at the time.
  • Second, what did you do in that particular situation?
  • Third, how did you feel about the situation while you were experiencing it?
  • Fourth, how do you feel about the situation now?  Would you change any
    part of the situation?

Information about how individual officers were evaluated by their administrators was requested only after trained raters scored each HRI narrative.  A t-test analysis demonstrated a significant difference between effective and less effective university police officer dispositions and dimensions measured by HRI scores.  On average, the university police officers who were designated as effective by their police chiefs scored higher by professional perceptual raters than those who were designated as less effective by their police chiefs.

These findings have implications for the hiring practices of university police departments and for supporting the dispositional growth of university officers after they are hired.  They also suggest that an exploration of all types of policing via future research can lead to a better understanding of the extent to which dispositional hiring can be utilized and developed in all communities to ensure that officers are not only the right fit for a given community, but also can ultimately be counted on to handle their responsibilities effectively, professionally, and successfully.

Combs, A.W., Richards, A.C., & Richards, F. (1976).  Perceptual psychology:  A humanistic approach to the study of persons.  New York:  Harper and Row.

Combs, A.W., & Gonzalez, David M. (1994).  Helping relationships.  Basic concepts for the helping professions.  4th ed.  Boston:  Allyn and Bacon.

Wasicsko, M.M. (2008).  Assessing educator dispositions:  A perceptual psychological approach.  Version 1.03.  Highland Heights, KY:  National Network for Educator Dispositions.  Retrieved November 13, 2013 from

John Douglas Wright (2006). Exploring the Relationships Among Dispositions Associated with Teacher Effectiveness and Indicators of Student Learning: A Perceptual Psychology Theory Approach. A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the University of West Georgia in partial fulfillment for the degree Doctor of Education.

The primary purpose of this study was to use perceptual psychology theory to examine teacher dispositions associated with effectiveness or ineffectiveness, and determine whether there are relationships among these dispositions, student perceptions of teachers, and student learning. Four dimensions of dispositions associated with teacher effectiveness were studied: perceptions of self as identified, perceptions of students as able, perceptions of the purpose of education as larger, and a frame of reference that is people-oriented. More specifically, this study sought to determine if there are links among these four perceptual dimensions of dispositions associated with effectiveness, as measured by teacher Human Relations Incidents (HRI) interviews; student perceptions of teacher effectiveness, as measured by the Student Perceptions of Teachers Quick Check Scale (SPTQCS); and student learning, as measured by scores on Georgia End of Course Tests (EOCT) and final grades in classes that require an EOCT. The participants included 21 teachers of regular education classes and 1335 students they taught from grades 9-12 in one Georgia high school.

Pearson product-moment correlation analyses demonstrated significant positive relationships between teacher dispositions associated with effectiveness and student learning variables, and between teacher dispositions associated with effectiveness and student perceptions of teacher effectiveness. Correlations yielding significance were also found between student learning variables and dimensions measured by HRI and SPTQCS scores. A series of one-way ANOVAs based on student and teacher demographics yielded significant group differences associated with SPTQCS scores in relation to student gender, race or ethnic group, age, grade level, and socioeconomic status; and teacher gender, race, age, education, experience, and subject taught. Simultaneous multiple regression analysis suggested that teacher dispositions associated with effectiveness were significant predictors of the variance in student achievement in this study.

These findings have implications for the hiring practices of school systems, the preparation of student teachers, and the further study and better understanding of teacher dispositions associated with effectiveness. Means of strengthening the analysis of dispositions associated with teacher effectiveness and exploring the extent to which dispositions can be developed or changed are suggested for future research.

Key words: Teacher Dispositions, Teacher Perceptions, Effective Teaching, Student Perceptions, Student Achievement, Perceptual Psychology

Joshua Christopher Wilson (2006). Rights, Process, & Political Passions: A Study of Three Anti-Abortion Protest Regulation Cases. A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Jurisprudence & Social Policy. University of California, Berkeley.

This dissertation addresses the interaction between law and political passions as demonstrated in three litigation-based case studies involving anti-abortion protests and speech rights. The project asks if the Madisonian concept of enumerated rights as a means to a culture of civic virtue that “counteract[s] the impulses of interest and passion” has been actualized in our law saturated society.

The study concludes that there is ample evidence of a shared conception of the value and limit of speech rights. In addition, the study shows that a minority of participants were compelled by the norms and practices of courts and legislative bodies to realize the Madisonian ideal of rights and civic virtue. Yet, for a number of reasons, the majority of subjects did not reach this end. Instead, absolutist views of rights and aspects of the legal processes involved in these cases actually supported continued intolerance and helped to undermine the ability of law to constrain or structure political passions.

[NOTE from THE FIELD PSYCH TRUST: This dissertation provides marvelous examples of the major premise in Perceptual theory – that an individual’s behavior is a function of his or her field of perceptions.]