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.
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.
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.
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.