Developmental Stage

Publication Type

High rates of discipline citations predict adverse life outcomes, a harm disproportionately borne by Black and Latino boys. We hypothesized that these citations arise in part from negative cycles of interaction between students and teachers, which unfold in contexts of social stereotypes. Can targeted interventions to facilitate identity safety—a sense of belonging, inclusion, and growth—for students help? Experiment 1 combined social-belonging, values-affirmation, and growth-mindset interventions delivered in several class sessions in 2 middle schools with a large Latino population (N = 669). This treatment reduced citations among negatively stereotyped boys in 7th and 8th grades by 57% as compared with a randomized control condition. A growth-mindset only treatment was also effective. Experiment 2 tested the social-belonging intervention alone, a grade earlier, at a third school with a large Black population and more overall citations (N = 137 sixth-grade students). In 2 class sessions, students reflected on stories from previous 7th-grade students, which represented worries about belonging and relationships with teachers early in middle school as normal and as improving with time. This exercise reduced citations among Black boys through the end of high school by 65%. Suggesting improved interactions with teachers, longitudinal analyses found that the intervention prevented rises in citations involving subjective judgments (e.g., “insubordination”) within 6th and 7th grades. It also forestalled the emergence of worries about being seen stereotypically by the end of 7th grade. Identity threat can give rise to cycles of interaction that are maladaptive for both teachers and students in school; targeted exercises can interrupt these cycles to improve disciplinary outcomes over years.

This study tested the protective effects of self-affirmation for students who have the subjective sense that they do not belong in college. Such a feeling is not as visible as race or gender but, as a pervasive part of the students' inner world, might still be as debilitating to the students' academic performance. Among a predominantly White sample of college undergraduates, students who felt a low sense of belonging declined in grade point average (GPA) over three semesters. In contrast, students who reported low belonging, but affirmed their core values in a lab-administered self-affirmation writing activity, gained in GPA over time, with the effect of affirmation sufficiently strong to yield a main effect among the sample as a whole. The affirmation intervention mitigated—and even reversed—the decline in GPA among students with a low sense of belonging in college, providing support for self-affirmation theory's contention that affirmations of personal integrity can lessen psychological threat regardless of its source.

The two studies reported here tested whether a classroom-based psychological intervention that benefited a few African American 7th graders could trigger emergent ecological effects that benefited their entire classrooms. Within a classroom, the greater the density of African American students who participated in the intervention exercise, the higher the grades of all classmates on average, regardless of their race or whether they participated in the intervention exercise. Benefits of treatment density were most pronounced among students with a history of poor performance. Results suggest that the benefits of psychological intervention do not end with the individual. Changed individuals can improve their social environments, and such improvements can benefit others regardless of whether they participated in the intervention. These findings have implications for understanding the emergence of ecological consequences from psychological processes.

Two longitudinal field experiments in a middle school examined how a brief “values affirmation” affects students' psychological experience and the relationship between psychological experience and environmental threat over 2 years. Together these studies suggest that values affirmations insulate individuals' sense of belonging from environmental threat during a key developmental transition, and that the intervention is most effective if delivered before a drop in performance.