Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Psychological and Social Foundations

Major Professor

Carlos Zalaquett, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Herbert Exum, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Debbie Osborn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Martin Lynch, Ph.D.


adventure based counseling, racism, self-esteem, empathy, discrimination, adolescence


This study investigated the effectiveness of Adventure Based Counseling upon high school adolescents. The goals of this study were to (a) explore the effectiveness of ABC Counseling in increasing levels of self-esteem and empathy among adolescents; (b) study the efficacy of ABC counseling in reducing perceived racial discrimination, racist attitudes, or both; and (c) investigate the correlation between self-esteem, empathy, perceived racial discrimination, and racist attitudes as related to the effects of ABC counseling. In addition, the effects of ABC counseling on the school-related variables such as discipline, attendance, and academics, as well as possible outcome differences caused by demographic variables like gender and ethnicity were measured in relation to the effects of the ABC counseling treatment. Finally, this study also gathered descriptive data from participants through survey questionnaires regarding their prior knowledge and sensitivity to other races, their perception of racism occurring at the study site, and their experience in ABC counseling.

Research indicates that adolescents struggle with and are confronted by many developmental, psychological, and social phenomena while in high school. Salient among these phenomena are self-esteem, empathy, and racism. Research shows that developmentally appropriate self-esteem and empathy have a positive effect on the well being and functioning of adolescents. Furthermore, research indicates that racism has a significant negative impact on the development of adolescents. Social Identity Theory suggests that increases in self-esteem could lead to decreases in racism (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Tajfel, 1978, 1981, 1982). Research based on this theory indicates a possible correlation between increased empathy and a decrease in racism (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). In addition, ABC counseling has been shown to produce a positive impact on both self-esteem and empathy in adolescents (Tajfel & Turner, 1979).

A total of 108 African American, Latina/o, and Caucasian adolescents from one Southeastern high school participated in the study. Half the students received a one-day ABC counseling treatment, and half served as the control group receiving no treatment. Results of the study found significant increases for the ABC counseling group in both self-esteem and empathy, and significant decreases in perceived racial discrimination and racist attitudes. In addition, a significant reduction in discipline referrals occurred from baseline to one-month follow-up. An ancillary analysis showed significance for the variables gender and ethnicity: males experienced a significantly greater increase in self-esteem and empathy as compared to females; Latina/os had the most significant decrease in racist attitudes and highest overall scores on the same measure; African Americans possessed significantly higher perceived racial discrimination scores than Caucasians or Latina/os.

Limitations existed concerning the sample, instruments, and analysis. The sample was taken from a single high school in an affluent community; some of the instruments do not have reported reliability and validity or prior use with high school students in the study; and the absence of multicollinearity was assessed through examination of the Variance Inflation Factors (VIF) and the assumption was violated with the outcome self-esteem. These limitations necessitate caution when making generalizations using the study's results.

Similar to previous research, the ABC group experienced a significant increase in self-esteem and empathy. Participating in the program also produced significant decreases in both perceived racism and racist attitudes. The latter results support the hypothesis made by the theoretical models used in this research, but it is believed that this is the first time such an effect has received empirical support. In addition, the significant negative relationships found between self-esteem and perceived racism, and empathy and perceived racism verified the prediction that increases in self-esteem and empathy would correlate with decreases in racism.