An evaluation of a supplemental procedure geared toward prolonging challenge course benefits



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Challenge courses, also known as ropes courses, are a type of adventure education program designed to enhance intrapersonal and interpersonal functioning. Past research has indicated a number of short-term gains evolving from challenge course participation, such as increased self-esteem, cohesion, and teamwork (Bunting & Donley, 2002). However, longitudinal studies of challenge course participation have suggested that the gains are not maintained over time (Hatch & McCarthy, 2003) unless challenge course participation is supplemented by extensive follow-up procedures (Priest & Lesperance, 1994). This study explored the effects of a brief supplemental procedure aimed at promoting the maintenance of challenge course gains over time. Seventy students representing six college student organizations were assigned to the intervention or control group. Intervention group members received information on their organizations' goals for participating in the challenge course immediately prior to and one week following challenge course participation. Control group members participated in a challenge course but did not receive information on their organizations' goals. Measures of teamwork, cohesion, and personal and group effectiveness were given to participants immediately prior to and following the challenge course as well as two months after the course. Results showed that both the control and intervention group experienced short-term gains in teamwork and personal and group effectiveness immediately following challenge course participation but did not maintain the gains over a two-month period. Exploratory analyses were performed to determine the effects of the intervention when a subgroup of intervention group participants who were members of a student organization that differed significantly from the other organizations was statistically removed. Results from these exploratory analyses indicated that while gains in group effectiveness and cohesion were not maintained for either the control or intervention group, increases in teamwork and personal effectiveness were maintained for the intervention group but not for the control group. The study concluded that the supplemental procedure demonstrated potential for facilitating the maintenance of challenge course gains over time, with further studies involving larger participant groups and improvements to the study design needed to determine the supplemental procedure's utility.