Research Library


Previous research has documented that people from working-class contexts have fewer skills linked to academic success than their middle-class counterparts (e.g., worse problem-solving skills). Challenging this idea, we propose that one reason why people from working-class contexts underperform is because U.S. measures of achievement tend to assess people individually. We theorize that working together on measures of achievement will create a cultural match with the interdependent selves common among people from working-class contexts, therefore improving their sense of fit and performance. We further theorize that effective group processes will serve as a mechanism that helps to explain when and why working together affords these benefits. Four studies utilizing diverse methods support our theorizing. Using archival data on college student grades, Study 1 finds that groups with higher proportions of students from working-class contexts perform better. Utilizing a nationally representative sample of collegiate student-athletes, Study 2 suggests that the benefits of working together for people from working-class contexts are moderated by whether groups engage in effective group processes. Studies 3 and 4 demonstrate that working together (vs. individually) causally improves the fit and performance of people from working-class contexts. Study 4 identifies effective group processes as a mediator: People from working-class (vs. middle-class) contexts more frequently engage in effective group processes, thus improving their performance. Our findings suggest that assessing achievement individually is not class-neutral. Instead, assessing achievement in a way that is congruent with interdependent models of self—as people work together— can help realize the full potential of people from working-class contexts.