Recursive processes in self-affirmation: Intervening to close the minority achievement gap

Department of Psychology, University of Colorado, Muenzinger Psychology Building, Boulder, CO 80309-0345, USA.
Science (Impact Factor: 31.48). 05/2009; 324(5925):400-3. DOI: 10.1126/science.1170769
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT A 2-year follow-up of a randomized field experiment previously reported in Science is presented. A subtle intervention to lessen minority students' psychological threat related to being negatively stereotyped in school was tested in an experiment conducted three times with three independent cohorts (N = 133, 149, and 134). The intervention, a series of brief but structured writing assignments focusing students on a self-affirming value, reduced the racial achievement gap. Over 2 years, the grade point average (GPA) of African Americans was, on average, raised by 0.24 grade points. Low-achieving African Americans were particularly benefited. Their GPA improved, on average, 0.41 points, and their rate of remediation or grade repetition was less (5% versus 18%). Additionally, treated students' self-perceptions showed long-term benefits. Findings suggest that because initial psychological states and performance determine later outcomes by providing a baseline and initial trajectory for a recursive process, apparently small but early alterations in trajectory can have long-term effects. Implications for psychological theory and educational practice are discussed.

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Available from: Nancy Apfel, Jul 28, 2015
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    • "This means that people are not only more likely to provide support to, and receive support from other ingroup members, but are also more likely to interpret support in constructive ways when it is structured by shared identity (e.g., Dovidio, Gaertner, Schnabel , Saguy, & Johnson, 2010; Haslam, Reicher, & Levine, 2012; Levine, Prosser, Evans, & Reicher, 2005; Levine & Thompson, 2004). This, in turn, has important implications for health and wellbeing , given that social support (of a variety of forms) generally buffers the effect of psychological stressors and enhances mental and physical health (Brewer, 1991; Cohen, 2004; Rosal, King, Ma, & Reed, 2004; Turner-Cobb, Sephton, Koopman, Blake-Mortimer, & Spiegel, 2000; Uchino, 2009). Indeed, the availability of social support informs individuals' secondary appraisal of their ability to cope with events that they perceive as stressful (Lazarus & Folkman , 1984). "
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    • "The authors are sceptical about this rather " rosy-sounding " scenario, but note that specific interventions aimed at improving the cognitive development of children with low socioeconomic status may well trigger the desired effect. Indeed, Cohen and colleagues have shown that even brief self-affirmation writing assignments aimed at reducing feelings of academic threat in ethnic minority high-school students had the effect of producing significant improvements in grade-point average, which endured over a period of 2 years [157] [158] — a potential indication that the Matthew effect might have kicked in. As noted in the Introduction, the concept today is in wide use to describe the general pattern of self-reinforcing inequality that can be related to economic wealth, political power, prestige and stardom. "
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    • "Self-affirmations given at these times can help people navigate difficulties and set them on a better path. Their confidence in their ability to overcome future difficulties may grow and thus buttress coping and resilience for the next adversity, in a self-reinforcing narrative (Cohen et al. 2009). "
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