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College Students, Intimidation, and Market Knowledge Part I


If students are intimidated by financial markets, then their market awareness will be impaired.


I keep looking for something I can't get
Broken hearts lie all around me
And I don't see an easy way to get out of this

--Cutting Crew

It is often stated that a primary goal of Minyanville is to remove intimidation from financial markets. Intimidation is a state of fear or lack of self-confidence in threatening situations (e.g., Seabrook, 2004; Shields, 1999). In a financial context, intimidation can be viewed as a negative emotional and behavioral response to market-related threats perceived as uncontrollable (Ford et al., 2007).

Because intimidation prompts individuals to avoid facing challenging situations (Unger et al., 2003) and to rigidify information processing (Staw et al., 1981), seeking to reduce intimidation in a learning environment such as Minyanville is a worthy goal. We've focused on this objective while developing the University of Minyanville section of the 'Ville. UMV seeks to help learners, particularly newcomers, make sense of financial markets.

To effectively facilitate a 'low intimidation' UMV learning environment, we sought to become more knowledgeable about the nature of market-related intimidation and its relationship to learner attitudes and understanding about markets. Because of our desire to strengthen Minyanville's presence in the university community, our research focused on the intimidation-knowledge relationship among college students.


Perceptions of threat emanating from financial markets may vary considerably among college students. Coursework (Krishnan et al., 1999) and societal cues that portray markets as difficult to successfully navigate (e.g., Lim, 2004) may evoke perceptions of threat. On the other hand, high levels of confidence in one's decision-making ability (Daniel et al. 1998) or optimism that comes from youth, inexperience, or time horizon (e.g., Wood & Zaichkowsky, 2004) may cause students to view markets more opportunistically.

To the extent that college students do feel intimidated, development of financial market knowledge and awareness should be hindered. Intimidated students might engage in rigid behavior (Staw et al., 1981) such as restricting market information flow or ceding control of financial matters to someone else. Indeed, intimidated students might avoid financial markets altogether. Practical knowledge obtained through empirical contexts (Leonard & Swap, 2005) should be particularly impaired because intimidated students will be less likely to immerse themselves in market environments. As such, intimidated students should know less about financial markets and be less aware of market conditions than less intimidated peers. We therefore posit that:

Hypothesis 1: Intimidation is negatively related to financial market knowledge among college students.

Intimidation should also influence a student's interest in financial markets. Interest can be defined as an experiential state characterized by focused attention on an issue and accompanied by feelings of pleasure and concentration (Krapp & Renninger, 1992). Interest can be a powerful motivator and a key determinant in intrinsic motivation, self-determination, and learning (Steinmetz & Patten, 1967).

Student interest in financial markets should be impaired by intimidation. Rigid or avoidance behavior manifest in the intimidation response arises from the impression that a threat is uncontrollable (Mone et al., 1998). A sense of incompetence may arise, as students perceive they are unable to cope with market threats in a proactive manner. Feelings of incompetence reduce interest (Vallerand & Reid, 1984). Moreover, since interest can be linked to experience (Krapp & Renninger, 1992), behavior that reduces an intimidated student's exposure to financial markets should stunt interest. It follows that:

Hypothesis 2: Intimidation is negatively related to financial market interest among college students.

In an upcoming Part II, we'll share how these hypotheses were tested and what we learned.

Click here for Part II


Daniel, K., Hirshliefer, D., & Subrahmanyam, A. (1998). Investor psychology and security market under- and overperformance. Journal of Finance, 53, 1839-1885.

Krapp, A. & Renninger, K.A. (1992). Interest, learning and development. In A Renninger, S. Hildi, & A. Krapp (Eds.), Interest in learning and development. (pp. 3-25). Hillsdale, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Krishnan, V.S., Bathala, C., Bhattacha, T.K., & Ritchey, R. (1999). Teaching the introductory finance course: What can we learn from student perceptions and expectations? Financial Practice and Education, 9(1), 70-82.

Leonard, D. & Swap, W. (2005). Deep smarts: How to cultivate and transfer enduring business wisdom. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Lim, P. (2004). Money mistakes you can't afford to make: How to solve common problems and improve your personal finances. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mone, M., McKinley, W. & Barker, V. (1998). Organizational decline and innovation: A contingency framework. Academy of Management Review, 23, 115-132.

Seabrook, M. (2004). Intimidation in medical education: Students' and teachers' perspectives. Studies in Higher Education, 29(1), 59-74.

Shields, E.W., Jr. (1999). Intimidation and violence by males in high school athletics. Adolescence, 34, 503-521.

Staw, B.M., Sandelands, W.E., & Dutton, J.E. (1981). Threat-rigidity effects in organizational behavior: A multilevel analysis. Administrative Science Quarterly, 26, 501-524.

Steinmetz, L.L. & Patten, R.J. (1967). Enthusiasm, interest and learning: The results of game training. Training & Development, 21(4), 26-33.

Unger, W., Evans, I.M., Rourke, P. & Levis, D.J. (2003). The S-S construct of expectancy versus the S-R construct of fear: Which motivates the acquisition of avoidance behavior? Journal of General Psychology, 130(2), 131-147.

Vallerand, R.J. & Reid, G. (1984). On the causal effects of perceived competence on intrinsic motivation: A test of cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Sport Psychology, 6, 94-102.

Wood, R. & Zaichkowsky, J.L. (2004). Attitudes and trading behavior of stock market investors: A segmentation approach. Journal of Behavioral Finance, 5(3), 170-179.

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