Geoffrey L Cohen

Geoffrey L Cohen
Stanford University | SU · Department of Psychology

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76
Publications
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Publications

Publications (76)
Article
Adolescence can be a tumultuous period with numerous threats to self‐integrity. A 3‐year field experiment tested whether repeated affirmations of self‐integrity can help lessen the impact of psychological threat on adolescent (11–14 years old) students’ core course GPA over time. A diverse cohort of students (N = 163) was randomly assigned to a con...
Article
The present study offers a proof‐of‐concept for the delivery of values affirmation via text message. In two studies, we tested whether we could distill the typical 15‐minute pen‐and‐paper values affirmation exercise into a brief (∼4 minute) text‐message based exercise. In Study 1 (N = 42), we asked students to identify an upcoming academic stressor...
Article
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Retaining students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is critical as demand for STEM graduates increases. Whereas many approaches to improve persistence target individuals’ internal beliefs, skills, and traits, the intervention in this experiment strengthened students’ peer social networks to help them persevere. Students i...
Article
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Lay theory interventions instill situation-general ways of thinking, often using short reading and writing exercises, and they have led to lasting changes in behavior and performance in a wide variety of policy domains. Do they work in all contexts? We suggest that lay theory intervention effects depend on psychological affordances, which are defin...
Article
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Many attractive jobs in today’s world require people to take on new challenges and figure out how to master them. As with any challenging goal, this involves systematic strategy use. Here we ask: Why are some people more likely to take a strategic stance toward their goals, and can this tendency be cultivated? To address these questions, we introdu...
Article
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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...
Chapter
A theory-based intervention known as “self-affirmation” provides people with the opportunity to affirm a sense of self-integrity, a global image of moral and adaptive adequacy, at moments of psychological threat. By assuaging threat, affirmations can allay stress and defensive responding. The positive impact of self-affirmations has been shown in m...
Article
A three-year field experiment at an ethnically diverse middle school (N = 163) tested the hypothesis that periodic self-affirmation exercises delivered by classroom teachers bolsters students' school trust and improves their behavioral conduct. Students were randomly assigned to either a self-affirmation condition, where they wrote a series of in-c...
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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 s...
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Individuals’ theories about emotions—the beliefs about the nature of emotions and the ability to influence them—have been linked to well-being. However, their causal role is not clear. To address this issue, we delivered a randomized controlled intervention to 1,645 middle school students that targeted their theories of emotion through interactive...
Article
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Small but timely experiences can have long-term benefits when their psychological effects interact with institutional processes. In a follow-up of two randomized field experiments, a brief values affirmation intervention designed to buffer minority middle schoolers against the threat of negative stereotypes had long-term benefits on college-relevan...
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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 (ages 11–14; Study 1, N = 277). African American students were more aware of racial bias in school disciplinary decisions, and as this awareness grew it predicted a loss of trust...
Article
Evaluative domains such as work and school present daily threats to self-integrity that can undermine performance. Self-affirmation theory asserts that, when threatened, people can perform small but meaningful acts to reaffirm their sense of competency. For instance, brief self-affirmation writing interventions have been shown in numerous studies t...
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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? Coul...
Article
A key question about achievement motivation is how to maintain it over time and in the face of stress and adversity. The present research examines how a motivational process triggered by a social-psychological intervention propagates benefits over a long period of time and creates an enduring shift in the way people interpret subsequent adversity....
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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. Multilevel analyses were conducted on data that previously documented the benefits of values affirmations on African American st...
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Peer influence processes have been documented extensively for a wide range of maladaptive adolescent behaviors. However, peer socialization is not inherently deleterious, and little is known about whether adolescents influence each other’s prosocial behaviors, or whether some peers are more influential than others towards positive youth outcomes. T...
Poster
This study extend research on the “Obama Effect” by demonstrating that it can be rekindled even when temporally removed from the election itself. An intervention delivered in March of 2010 asking students to relive Obama’s election improved minority students’ grades and reduced identity threat for racial minority males.
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Most peer influence research examines socialization between adolescents and their best friends. Yet, adolescents also are influenced by popular peers, perhaps due to misperceptions of social norms. This research examined the extent to which out-group and in-group adolescents misperceive the frequencies of peers' deviant, health risk, and adaptive b...
Presentation
Two studies support a symbolic firsts theory, which proposes that reflecting on a transformative leader from a minority group can affect students’ performance and psychological experiences. An intervention in November of 2008 asking 6th grade students to reflect on President Obama’s election led to higher grades, F(1, 152) = 6.60, p = .01, and decr...
Article
The power of psychologically based interventions has garnered much interest in the general public and in the social sciences, especially in social psychology. Among the lessons that such social-psychological interventions provide are two of special importance for educational practice and social policy. The first is that different students can perce...
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People often conform to the opinions of ingroup members, even when available evidence suggests the group is misinformed. Following insights from the social identity approach and self-affirmation theory, it was hypothesized that people conform to salient opinions in an effort to maintain global self-integrity. In a series of experiments examining Am...
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A performance-based measure of peer influence susceptibility was examined as a moderator of the longitudinal association between peer norms and trajectories of adolescents' number of sexual intercourse partners. Seventy-one 9th grade adolescents (52% female) participated in an experimental "chat room" paradigm involving "e-confederates" who endorse...
Article
Social psychological theories provide bases for understanding how social comparison processes may impact peer influence. This study examined two peer characteristics that may impact peer influence on adolescent girls' weight-related behavior intentions: body size and popularity. A school-based sample of 66 9th grade girls (12-15 years old) complete...
Article
Full-text available
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. Self-affirmation interventions typically have...
Article
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Three double-blind randomized field experiments examined the effects of a strategy to restore trust on minority adolescents' responses to critical feedback. In Studies 1 and 2, 7th-grade students received critical feedback from their teacher that, in the treatment condition, was designed to assuage mistrust by emphasizing the teacher's high standar...
Article
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Two experiments examined for the first time whether the specific content of participant-generated affirmation essays-in particular, writing about social belonging-facilitated an affirmation intervention's ability to reduce identity threat among negatively stereotyped students. Study 1, a field experiment, revealed that seventh graders assigned to a...
Article
Full-text available
To the extent that stereotype and identity threat undermine academic performance, social psychological interventions that lessen threat could buffer threatened students and improve performance. Two studies, each featuring a longitudinal field experiment in a mixed-ethnicity middle school, examined whether a values affirmation writing exercise could...
Article
Self-affirmation interventions, in which people write about personal values, show promise as a technique to help people cope with psychological threat. However, recent research shows that awareness of self-affirmation effects undermines them. We hypothesized that awareness attenuates self-affirmation effects only when completion of the affirmation...
Article
Research on adolescent development suggests that peer influence may play a key role in explaining adolescents' willingness to drink, an important predictor of drinking initiation. However, experiments that thoroughly examine these peer influence effects are scarce. This study experimentally examined whether adolescents adapted their willingness to...
Article
Four experiments examined the effect on achievement motivation of mere belonging, a minimal social connection to another person or group in a performance domain. Mere belonging was expected to increase motivation by creating socially shared goals around a performance task. Participants were led to believe that an endeavor provided opportunities for...
Article
Full-text available
We previously reported on the success of a psychological intervention implemented to reduce gender differences in achievement in an introductory college physics course. In this prior study, we found that the gender gap on exams and the FMCE among students who completed two 15-minute self-affirmation writing exercises was significantly reduced compa...
Chapter
Kurt Lewin, the renowned experimental social psychologist, said that understanding the processes underlying a problem can help us to remedy it. He also said that one of the best ways to understand a phenomenon is by trying to change it. This chapter discusses how an understanding of "identity threat"-the psychological threat arising from possible d...
Article
Full-text available
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 th...
Article
Weighing contributions of social psychology to understanding and remedying social problems, Wilson argues that the key to transforming people's lives lies in their learning to recast the stories they tell themselves.
Article
A social psychological perspective on educational intervention is presented. We discuss 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...
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A substantial amount of research has suggested that adolescents' attitudes and behaviors are influenced by peers; however, little is known regarding adolescents' individual variability, or susceptibility, to peer influence. In this study, a performance-based index from an experimental paradigm was used to directly measure adolescents' susceptibilit...
Article
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A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen's sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and tr...
Article
The 2008 presidential election brought the partisan divide between U.S. Republicans and Democrats to the forefront. In such contested situations, people who identify with the parties and their candidates experience pressure to adhere to their group's core beliefs and behaviors. This research hypothesized that providing individuals a chance to affir...
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The cultural cognition thesis holds that individuals form risk perceptions that reflect their commitments to contested views of the good society. We conducted a study that used the dispute over mandatory HPV vaccination to test the cultural cognition thesis. Although public health officials have recommended that all girls aged 11 or 12 be vaccinate...
Article
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In many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, women are outperformed by men in test scores, jeopardizing their success in science-oriented courses and careers. The current study tested the effectiveness of a psychological intervention, called values affirmation, in reducing the gender achievement gap in a college-level intr...
Article
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Prior work at CU-Boulder has shown that a gender gap (difference in male and female performance) exists in both the pre- and post-course conceptual surveys, despite the use of interactive engagement techniques [Kost, et al., PRST-PER 5, 010101]. A potential explanation for this persistent gap is that stereotype threat, the fear of confirming a ster...
Article
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Three studies investigated whether self-affirmation can proceed without awareness, whether people are aware of the influence of experimental self-affirmations, and whether such awareness facilitates or undermines the self-affirmation process. The authors found that self-affirmation effects could proceed without awareness, as implicit self-affirming...
Article
Narcissistic individuals are prone to become aggressive when their egos are threatened. We report a randomized field experiment that tested whether a social-psychological intervention designed to lessen the impact of ego threat reduces narcissistic aggression. A sample of 405 young adolescents (mean age = 13.9 years) were randomly assigned to compl...
Article
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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 serie...
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How is public opinion towards nanotechnology likely to evolve? The ‘familiarity hypothesis’ holds that support for nanotechnology will likely grow as awareness of it expands. The basis of this conjecture is opinion polling, which finds that few members of the public claim to know much about nanotechnology, but that those who say they do are substan...
Article
In this article we discuss how social or group identities affect achievement. We also present a model of identity engagement that describes how a salient social identity can trigger psychological threat and belonging concerns and how these can produce persistent performance decrements, which through feedback loops can increase over time. The charac...
Article
We present the results from the second in a series of ongoing experimental studies of public perceptions of nanotechnology risks. Like the first study, the current one found that members of the public, most of whom know little or nothing about nanotechnology, polarize along cultural lines when exposed to information about it. Extending previous res...
Article
This paper reports the results of an experiment designed to test competing conjectures about the evolution of public attitudes toward nanotechnology. The rational enlightenment hypothesis holds that members of the public will become favorably disposed to nanotechnology as balanced and accurate information about it disseminates. The cultural cogniti...
Article
Cultural Cognition refers to the disposition to conform one's beliefs about societal risks to one's preferences for how society should be organized. Based on surveys and experiments involving some 5,000 Americans, the Second National Risk and Culture Study presents empirical evidence of the effect of this dynamic in generating conflict about global...
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Three studies link resistance to probative information and intransigence in negotiation to concerns of identity maintenance. Each shows that affirmations of personal integrity (vs. nonaffirmation or threat) can reduce resistance and intransigence but that this effect occurs only when individuals' partisan identity and/or identity-related conviction...
Article
Despite knowing little about nanotechnology (so to speak), members of the public readily form opinions on whether its potential risks outweigh its potential benefits. On what basis are they forming their judgments? How are their views likely to evolve as they become exposed to more information about this novel science? We conducted a survey experim...
Article
A sense of personal objectivity may prompt an “I think it, therefore it’s true” mindset, in which people assume that their own beliefs and introspections are, by definition, valid and therefore worthy of being acted on. In the present studies, priming a sense of personal objectivity increased gender discrimination, particularly among decision-maker...
Article
Stigmatization can give rise to belonging uncertainty. In this state, people are sensitive to information diagnostic of the quality of their social connections. Two experiments tested how belonging uncertainty undermines the motivation and achievement of people whose group is negatively characterized in academic settings. In Experiment 1, students...
Article
Full-text available
Two randomized field experiments tested a social-psychological intervention designed to improve minority student performance and increase our understanding of how psychological threat mediates performance in chronically evaluative real-world environments. We expected that the risk of confirming a negative stereotype aimed at one's group could under...
Article
Peer contagion of adolescent males' aggressive/health risk behaviors was examined using a computerized "chat room" experimental paradigm. Forty-three 11th-grade White adolescents (16-17 years old) were led to believe that they were interacting with other students (i.e., "e-confederates"), who endorsed aggressive/health risk behaviors and whose oste...
Article
Collective threat is the fear that an in-group member's behavior might reinforce a negative stereotype of one's group. In a field study, self-reported collective threat was higher in stereotyped minorities than in Whites and was linked to lower self-esteem in both groups. In 3 experimental studies, a potentially poor performance by an in-group memb...
Article
This article presents an account of job discrimination according to which people redefine merit in a manner congenial to the idiosyncratic credentials of individual applicants from desired groups. In three studies, participants assigned male and female applicants to gender-stereotypical jobs. However, they did not view male and female applicants as...
Article
Comments on an article by Paul Sackett, Chaitra Hardison and Michael Cullen entitled On Interpreting Stereotype Threat as Accounting for African American-White Differences on Cognitive Tests (see record 2004-10043-001). In their article, Sackett, Hardison, and Cullen (see record 2000-16592-021) critiqued misrepresentations of the original stereotyp...
Article
Four studies demonstrated both the power of group influence in persuasion and people's blindness to it. Even under conditions of effortful processing, attitudes toward a social policy depended almost exclusively upon the stated position of one's political party. This effect overwhelmed the impact of both the policy's objective content and participa...
Article
When a negative stereotype impugns the ability or worth of an outgroup, people may experience stereotype lift—a performance boost that occurs when downward comparisons are made with a denigrated outgroup. In a meta-analytic review, members of non-stereotyped groups were found to perform better when a negative stereotype about an outgroup was linked...
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To provided initial descriptive information regarding adolescents' engagement in oral sex and to investigate adolescents' perceptions of their best friends' sexual behavior and peer-reported popularity as two social mechanisms that may influence engagement in oral sex. A total of 212 tenth graders reported their engagement in oral sex and intercour...
Article
People often cling to beliefs even in the face of disconfirming evidence and interpret ambiguous information in a manner that bolsters strongly held attitudes. The authors tested a motivational account suggesting that these defensive reactions would be ameliorated by an affirmation of an alternative source of self-worth. Consistent with this interp...
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Full-text available
Two studies examined the response of Black and White students to critical feedback presented either alone or buffered with additional information to ameliorate its negative effects. Black students who received unbuffered critical feedback responded less favorably than White students both in ratings of the evaluator’s bias and in measures of task mo...
Article
Full-text available
People possess idiosyncratic, self-serving definitions of traits and abilities. This observation was supported by 6 studies in which people articulated the performances along behavioral criteria (e.g., math Scholastic Achievement Test score) necessary to "qualify" for relevant traits (e.g., math ability) or made judgments about performances attaine...

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