Could mitigating persistent worries about belonging in the transition to college improve adult life for black Americans? To examine this question, we conducted a long-term follow-up of a randomized social-belonging intervention delivered in the first year of college. This 1-hour exercise represented social and academic adversity early in college as common and temporary. As previously reported in Science, the exercise improved black students’ grades and well-being in college. The present study assessed the adult outcomes of these same participants. Examining adult life at an average age of 27, black adults who had received the treatment (versus control) exercise 7 to 11 years earlier reported significantly greater career satisfaction and success, psychological well-being, and community involvement and leadership. Gains were statistically mediated by greater college mentorship. The results suggest that addressing persistent social-psychological concerns via psychological intervention can shape the life course, partly by changing people’s social realities.
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.
This research tested a social-developmental process model of trust discernment. From sixth to eighth grade, White and African American students were surveyed twice yearly. African American students were more aware of racial bias in school disciplinary decisions, and as this awareness grew it predicted a loss of trust in school, leading to a large trust gap in seventh grade. Loss of trust by spring of seventh grade predicted African Americans' subsequent discipline infractions and 4-year college enrollment. Causality was confirmed with a trust-restoring "wise feedback" treatment delivered in spring of seventh grade that improved African Americans' eighth-grade discipline and college outcomes. Correlational findings were replicated with Latino and White students.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been discussed as a key to increasing educational equity and bridging divides within and across countries. However, the use of these courses reflects prevailing educational disparities, with more affluent participants enrolling and completing courses. In this study, the researchers randomly assigned participants to receive brief online exercises aimed to lessen social identity threat alongside their course. These interventions increased persistence for participants in less-developed countries and eliminated the global achievement gap.
Previous experiments have shown that college students benefit when they understand that challenges in the transition to college are common and improvable and, thus, that early struggles need not portend a permanent lack of belonging or potential. Could such an approach—called a lay theory intervention—be effective before college matriculation? The lay theory interventions raised first-year full-time college enrollment among students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds exiting a high-performing charter high school network or entering a public flagship university (experiments 1 and 2) and, at a selective private university, raised disadvantaged students’ cumulative first-year grade point average (experiment 3). These gains correspond to 31–40% reductions of the raw (unadjusted) institutional achievement gaps between students from disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged backgrounds at those institutions. Further, follow-up surveys suggest that the interventions improved disadvantaged students’ overall college experiences, promoting use of student support services and the development of friendship networks and mentor relationships.
A correlational study and five experiments showed that experiencing or recalling situations associated with the devaluation of a social identity caused participants to endorse or engage in deviant actions, including stealing, cheating, and lying. The effect was driven by the tendency to construe social identity threats not as isolated incidents but as symbolic of the continuing devaluation and disrespectful treatment of one’s group. Supplementing sociological approaches to deviance and delinquency, the results suggest the relevance and utility of a social-psychological account.
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.
Medicine has historically been a male-dominated field, and there remains a stereotype that men are better physicians than women. For female residents, and in particular female surgical residents, chronically contending with this stereotype can exact a toll on their psychological health. The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between women surgeons' psychological health and their perception of other people's endorsement of the stereotype (stereotype perception).
People have a basic need to maintain the integrity of the self, a global sense of personal adequacy. Events that threaten self-integrity arouse stress and self-protective defenses that can hamper performance and growth. However, an intervention known as self-affirmation can curb these negative outcomes. The interventions bring about a more expansive view of the self and its resources, weakening the implications of a threat for personal integrity. Timely affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and relationship outcomes, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years by touching off a positive feedback loop.
A follow up to an affirmation intervention study with middle schoolers revealed long term benefits of an exercise in which students wrote about a self-affirming value. Over 2 years, black students' GPA s was raised by 0.24 grade points. Low-achieving black students' GPA increased by 0.41 and their rate of remediation or grade repetition was dramatically reduced. The authors describe the importance of setting in motion a recursive process early on.
Affirming students' sense of "self-integrity" lessened the psychological threat experienced by certain groups who worried about confirming negative stereotypes aimed at their group. The intervention reduced the racial achievement gap in grades by 40% among middle schoolers.
The authors make 3 claims: (1) Stigmatization impedes the establishment of trust, (2) Mistrust elicited by stigmatization can cause motivation and performance to suffer, and (3) Allaying the threat of stigmatization will help to create trust and improve motivation. They describe the application of this theory to the issue of providing critical but constructive feedback across lines of difference. This same framework is used to understand how a "stigma of racism" may hamper the performance of teachers who work in demographically diverse classrooms. Intervention strategies are reviewed that may boost the achievement of minority students by allaying the threat of stigmatization and thus creating a basis of trust.
An intervention that framed social adversity as common and transient and used subtle attitude-change strategies raised black students' GPA and halved the achievement gap between black and white students. The increase in their performance was the result of the intervention preventing students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. It also improved self-reported health and well-being.
Worry over one’s social belonging can contribute to racial disparities in college achievement. Historically excluded groups may feel alienated and stigmatized on college campuses, contributing to the belief that they don’t belong. Subtle events that confirm a lack of social connectedness can have large impacts on belonging. On days of high stress, black students’ (but not white students’) sense of fit in college declined. However, after an exercise that relayed the message that normalized their feelings and suggested they would dissipate with time, black students were more engaged in school, and their sense of belonging hinged less on the quality of their day. Their GPAs also improved.
This chapter discusses the ways in which seemingly subtle interventions that affect student psychology can have disproportionately large and lasting positive effects. They do so, in large part, through recursive feedback loops and dynamic interactions with other factors in the school environment. A well-placed and well-timed intervention can have large and lasting effects. The conditions under which such effects occur and do not are also suggested by the presented framework.
The authors describe several social psychological factors that affect student motivation and learning. They describe the properties of instructional practices and schools that appear to foster student mindsets, tenacity, and performance.
By emphasizing their high standards and belief that a student is capable of meeting those standards alongside critical feedback on schoolwork, teachers convey to students that they will be neither treated nor judged in light of a negative stereotype. 71% of black students who received this type of "wise feedback" on an essay chose to revise their essays, compared with 17% in the control group. Among black students with low trust of their teachers, 82% revised their essay while none in the control group did. Another intervention that taught students to attribute critical feedback to their teachers' high standards and belief in their potential raised black students' grades and reduced the achievement gap.
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.