Project

The Belonging Project

Goal: We are examining the extent to which distinct aspects of social identity (group belonging and group identification) contributes to increases in multiple aspects of positive development (e.g., well-being, self-esteem, resilience, life transitions, etc.).

Date: 1 January 2018

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Project log

Damian Scarf
added a research item
Journal editorials, career features, and the popular press, commonly talk of a graduate student mental health crisis. To date, studies on graduate student mental health have employed cross-sectional designs, limiting any causal conclusions regarding the relationship between entry into graduate study and mental health. Here, we draw on data from a longitudinal study of undergraduate students in Aotearoa New Zealand, allowing us to compare participants who did, and did not, transition into PhD study following the completion of their undergraduate degree. Using multilevel Bayesian regression, we identified a difference in mental wellbeing between those who entered PhD study and those who did not. This difference, however, was largely due to those not entering PhD study displaying an increase in mental wellbeing. Participants that entered PhD study displayed a small decrease in mental wellbeing, with the posterior distribution of the simple effect heavily overlapping zero. This latter finding was orders of magnitude smaller than one might expect based on previous cross-sectional research and provides an important message; that a marked drop in mental health is not an inevitable consequence of entering graduate study.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
The book “Global Perspectives on University Students” was an initiative of the publishing program of Nova Science Publishers, Inc. Nova Science Publishers were looking for an international perspective on University Students and, accordingly, invited researchers from around the world to contribute their perspectives and empirical research. Fortunately, investigators from Argentina, Colombia, Croatia, France, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, and the United States found the book theme interesting and decided to contribute their research. From those contributions comes the present book. The book presents chapters that cover some of the many topics relevant to University students. Specifically, chapters related to mental health, depressive symptoms and personal autonomy are complemented by other chapters focusing on the influence of family or culture on students’ behavior. Issues related to healthy lifestyle are also considered, like physical activity level and chemical dependences. More broadly, the book includes a chapter that focuses on the entrepreneurial intention of college students, considering college educations as a main influencer to economic development. Finally, the book also includes a chapter that investigates the variables that influence the process of writing a thesis, something the editors of the current book can all identify with.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
A number of studies have reported a positive relationship between levels of national identification and well-being. Although this link is clear, the relationship is likely influenced by a number of other variables. In the current study, we examine two such variables: age and the ease with which people feel they can express their identity in the national context. Participants were drawn from three waves (2008-2012) of the biannual New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS). The NZGSS consists of a number of questions related to well-being. The current study utilized the questions related to one’s sense of belonging to New Zealand, ease to express one’s identity in New Zealand, and mental health. When controlling for physical health, standard of living, and several demographic control variables, there was a clear relationship between one’s sense of belonging to New Zealand and mental health. Further, this relationship was stronger for older than younger participants. Finally, the ease with which participants felt they could express their identity in New Zealand partially mediated the relationship. Future research should elucidate which specific aspects of their identity people feel is constrained in the national context.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
In the present investigation, we sought to examine the association between threats to belonging and intergroup discrimination in private and public contexts. To this end, participants (men) received either inclusion or ostracism feedback via a Cyberball game, and then were given the opportunity to differentially evaluate ingroup (i.e., men) and outgroup (i.e., women) members whilst believing these evaluations were to remain private or be shared publicly with other ingroup members. It was found that ostracised men whose evaluations were to be shared publicly and included men whose evaluations were to remain private evaluated the ingroup significantly more positively than the outgroup. Ostracised men whose evaluations were to be shared publicly and included men whose evaluations were to remain private evaluated the ingroup and the outgroup fairly. The ramifications of these findings are discussed.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
A central principle of the Māori worldview is an abiding concern for family-like relationships (whanaungatanga). As Macfarlane and colleagues (2008) note whanaungatanga refers to both "…a sense of belonging to and a sense of relating to others, within a context of collective identity and responsibility" (p. 107). Focusing on relationships and collective responsibility is largely at odds with western models of education. There is, however, a growing body of work demonstrating the importance of belonging for academic success. Beyond relationships with others, institutional factors can also influence the degree to which students feel that they belong at university. The aim of the current chapter is to chart the ways that universities in Aotearoa New Zealand have started to integrate Māori principles (e.g., whanaungatanga) into educational strategies with the goal of improving the experiences of Māori students at university. These include et al. 2 institutional factors, such as having Māori student support services on campus that provide pastoral and academic support for Māori students; structural factors, such as increasing the number of Māori academic staff; and individual factors, such as Māori scholarships to improve access to tertiary education.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
Over half of New Zealand high-school students make the transition to tertiary education. The transition is typically challenging, and students may experience an array of psychological challenges that threaten their mental health. In the present chapter, using the limited data at hand, we provide an overview of the current mental health status of New Zealand university students. In addition, we utilise the social identity approach as a framework for understanding university student mental health, with a particular focus on working-class students.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
The Social Identity Approach to Health holds that groups provide us with a sense of meaning and belonging, and that these identity processes have a significant positive impact on our health and wellbeing. Typically, research drawing from the social identity approach with adolescents has focused on the benefits of existing group memberships. Here, using a sail-training intervention, we investigated the impact of providing adolescents with a new group (i.e., a new social identity) on psychological resilience. Across two studies, we demonstrate the benefits of a new social identity, in terms of increases in psychological resilience, flow predominantly to those adolescents who report the lowest levels of resilience at the start of the voyage. We discuss our findings in relation to the social identity approach and adolescent identity development more generally.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
The Social Identity Approach to Health holds that groups provide us with a sense of meaning and belonging, and that these identity processes have a significant positive impact on our health and wellbeing. Typically, research drawing from the social identity approach with adolescents has focused on the benefits of existing group memberships. Here, using a sail-training intervention, we investigated the impact of providing adolescents with a new group (i.e., a new social identity) on psychological resilience. Across two studies, we demonstrate the benefits of a new social identity, in terms of increases in psychological resilience, flow predominantly to those adolescents who report the lowest levels of resilience at the start of the voyage. We discuss our findings in relation to the social identity approach and adolescent identity development more generally.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
Within Aotearoa New Zealand there is growing interest in positive youth development (PYD). A PYD approach provides balance to narratives surrounding outcomes for youth and broadens our views of what we consider beneficial developmental outcomes. In the current study we used sail training as a method to promote PYD in Māori and New Zealand European adolescents. Specifically, 54 Māori and 37 New Zealand European adolescents completed the 7-day youth-development voyage on-board the gaffed rigged schooner, R. Tucker Thompson. We demonstrate that, for both Māori and New Zealand European adolescents, psychological resilience, self-esteem, and positive outlook on life increased from the first day to the last day of the voyage. In addition, we demonstrate that the increases in psychological resilience were driven by the social/collective identity adolescents formed with their group over the course of the voyage.
John Hunter
added 2 research items
The present study sought to test two hypotheses. The first was that intergroup discrimination leads to increased self-esteem. The second was that threatened self-esteem (i.e., operationalized here as the extent to which people believe that the ingroup is negatively evaluated by an outgroup) would lead to increased intergroup discrimination. Support was found for both hypotheses.
Damian Scarf
added a research item
Within Aotearoa New Zealand there is growing interest in positive youth development (PYD) approaches. A PYD approach provides balance to narratives surrounding outcomes for youth and broadens our views of what we consider positive developmental outcomes. In current study we used sail training as a method to promote PYD in Māori and New Zealand European adolescents. Specifically, 54 Māori and 37 New Zealand European adolescents completed the 7-day youth-development voyage on the R. Tucker Thompson. We demonstrate that, for both Māori and New Zealand European adolescents, psychological resilience, self-esteem, and positive outlook on life increased from the first day to the last day of the voyage. In addition, we demonstrate increases in psychological resilience were driven by the social/collective identity adolescents formed with their group over the course of the voyage. Our findings are discussed in relation to Māori models of health and views of human development.
Damian Scarf
added an update
How important is it to feel like you belong? We just analysed from three waves (2008–2012) of New Zealand General Social Survey (GSS). The results of the analysis revealed that, when controlling for the effect of the GSS wave and the participant’s age, gender and ethnicity, 1) having a stronger sense of belonging to New Zealand is associated with better overall mental health, 2) older individuals benefit significantly more from a sense of belonging to New Zealand, 3) this interaction effect of sense of belonging to New Zealand and age on overall mental health is facilitated by individual’s ease to express one’s identity in New Zealand.
 
Damian Scarf
added an update
Talk given to College Leaders at St Margaret's College. St Margaret's College is a residential college on the University of Otago campus. Talk focused on the many benefits of a sense of belonging and also looked at work linking a sense of belonging to GPA. See attached.
 
Damian Scarf
added a research item
A number of recent studies have revealed that taking part in a sail-training-based Adventure Education Programme elevates youths' self-esteem. Across two studies, we sought to examine the extent to which youths' sense of belonging contributed to this increase in self-esteem. Study 1 revealed that participants who completed the voyage showed an increase in self-esteem from the first to the last day of the voyage. Partial correlation revealed that group belonging made a unique contribution to this change. Study 2 replicated Study 1 and, further, demonstrated that the relationship between group belonging and self-esteem was not a function of self-efficacy or group esteem. Such findings suggest that an important contributing factor to the benefits of sail-training interventions is their potential to satisfy psychological needs, in this case the need to belong.
Damian Scarf
added an update
Just accepted in Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning
Scarf, D., Kafka, S., Hayhurst, J., Boyes, Jang, K.H., M., Thomson, R., & Hunter, J.A. (2017). Satisfying psychological needs on the high seas: Explaining increases self-esteem following an adventure education program. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning. doi: 10.1080/14729679.2017.1385496
 
Damian Scarf
added an update
Check out the powerpoint for our recent presentation at the New Zealand Psychological Society Annual Conference titled 'Increasing the resilience of Māori and New Zealand European adolescents through Adventure Education Programs (AEPs): A pilot study.'
 
Damian Scarf
added an update
Promising results from our pilot work with youth on the R. Tucker Thompson. Resilience was measured using 10 items from Wagnild and Young’s Resilience Scale (RS). We can now move beyond this initial evidence base using co-design principles to better capture the changes in youth while also acknowledging factors that underlie initial discrepancies across groups.
 
Damian Scarf
added an update
Great news! We are now working with the R. Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust, who run 7-day developmental voyages with youth drawn exclusively from the Northland Te Tai Tokerau region. The R. Tucker Thompson is a gaff-rigged schooner built in Mangawhai and launched in 1985. Just under 200 youth take part in the voyages each year. John Hunter Private Profile
 
Damian Scarf
added a research item
AAAS (the publisher of Science ) recently launched [www.forceforscience.org][1], a new website to facilitate science advocacy. The site offers news, resources, and information about upcoming events for both scientists and the public. By way of introduction, we asked these questions: Why is science
Damian Scarf
added a research item
Introduction: Adolescence is a time of biological, emotional, and social change that can present a number of challenges for teens to overcome. Although much of the adolescent literature focuses on how peers may cause or exacerbate the many challenges teens face, there is a growing appreciation that peers can also have a profoundly positive influence on adolescent development. In the current study we investigate the role that peer acceptance plays in the long-term increases in psychological resilience we observed following an adventure education program. Participants: One hundred and eighty New Zealand high school students (96 females) participated in this study. The experimental group consisted of 60 adolescents that went on a 10-day voyage on the Spirit of New Zealand. The control group consisted of 120 adolescents, recruited from local high schools, that did not take part in the voyage. Methods: The resilience of voyage participants was assessed at four different time points; 1 month before the voyage (T1), the first day of the voyage (T2), the morning of the 10th day (i.e., the last day of the voyage) before participants departed the vessel (T3), and 9 months after the voyage (T4). The year 11 control group formed a pre-voyage baseline for T1 and the year 12 control participants formed a post-voyage baseline for T4. Social support, the subjective importance of the peer group, and peer acceptance were assessed at T3 for voyage participants. Results: For voyage participants, there was no change in resilience from 1 month before the start of the voyage (i.e., T1) to the first day of the voyage (i.e., T2) but there was a significant increase in resilience between T2 and the last day of the voyage (i.e., T3) and this was maintained at the 9-month follow up (i.e., T4). Critically, while voyage participants’ resilience did not differ from the control group at T1, it was significantly different at T4. Three hierarchical multiple regressions were conducted to determine the extent to which the importance of the peer group and social support contributed to peer acceptance, resilience immediately after the voyage (i.e., Resilience at T3), and the maintenance of resilience 9 months following the voyage (i.e., Resilience at T4). Resilience at T1 was controlled for in all analyses. The regression analyses revealed that social support did not contribute to Resilience at T3 or T4. Moreover, although the importance of the peer group initially contributed to Resilience at T3, but not T4, the relationship between importance and Resilience at T3 was not significant once peer acceptance was entered. Supporting our hypothesis, peer acceptance was a significant predictor of Resilience at T3 and, even after entering Resilience at T3, predicted Resilience at T4. Although the current study is unique in that it demonstrates the contribution peer acceptance makes to resilience, it is consistent with a much wider literature alluding to the importance of acceptance with respect to well-being and other health-related outcomes.
Damian Scarf
added 3 research items
There are a wide variety of interventions that seek to enhance self-esteem. Reviews of the empirical evidence suggest that many of these interventions fail to achieve the intended outcome. The following set of studies examined elevated self-esteem as a function of participation in a 10-day developmental voyage on the Spirit of New Zealand. Data from four separate studies are reported. Studies 1 and 2 revealed that participants who completed the voyage experienced elevated self-esteem. Study 3 replicated the findings reported in Studies 1 and 2 and additionally ruled out the possibility that the effects reported were a function of normal increases in self-esteem. Study 4 replicated and further extended these results to reveal that self-esteem was still elevated 4-5 months following the last day of the voyage. In overall terms, these findings provide evidence to suggest that a 10-day developmental voyage on the Spirit of New Zealand facilitates elevated levels of self-esteem that are maintained over time. The implications of these findings for interventions designed to improve youth self-esteem are discussed.
New Zealand adolescents have high rates of social and psychological morbidity. Alarmingly, the risk factors and adversity that contribute to this morbidity continue to grow. Neither risk factors nor adversity, however, are deterministic. Faced with similar challenges some children thrive while others regress. The ability to thrive when faced with adversity and challenge is known as resilience. In this talk I will discuss our research on increasing resilience in adolescents through them taking part in a 10-day developmental voyage upon the Spirit of New Zealand. Over the course of the voyage, young people encounter many challenges (e.g., they are separated from family and friends, denied access to technology, and must master the complex task of sailing regardless of seasickness, tiredness, or the rolling ocean swells). At the same time the on-board programme fosters teamwork, cooperation, and problem solving. The end result being that those who undertake the voyages report increased self-esteem, self-efficacy, positive relations with others, and resilience.
This talk was given at TEDx Dunedin 2015, a video of the talk can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbHBZWbEk8A
Damian Scarf
added a research item
The present study sought to examine the extent to which distinct aspects of social identity (group belonging and group identification) contributed to increased resilience following an Adventure Education Program (AEP). First, we demonstrate that group belonging makes a significant contribution to the improvement in resilience participants experience over the course of the AEP. In addition, we demonstrate that this increase in resilience is maintained nine months following the voyage. The contribution of group identification to increased resilience was indirect and fully mediated by belonging. Our findings accord well with recent research on the Social Cure or Social Identity Approach to Health.
Damian Scarf
added 2 research items
This study sought to examine the role of belonging in the increases in resilience observed following an adventure education programme (AEP). First, we demonstrate that group belonging makes a significant contribution to the improvement in resilience participants’ experienced over the course of the AEP. Second, we demonstrate that this increase in resilience is maintained 9 months following the AEP and that group belonging maintained a significant contribution when controlling for participants’ initial resilience level and other psychosocial variables (i.e., centrality of identity and social support). Our findings accord well with recent research on the Social Cure or Social Identity Approach to Health and add to a growing body of work identifying the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon.
Objective: Mental health problems are a leading cause of health-related disability during adolescence. The objectives of the current study were to investigate whether participating in an adventure education program (AEP) increased adolescents’ resilience and elucidate how social connectedness contributes to any increase. Method: Adolescents who participated in the AEP had their resilience measured on the first (Time 1) and last day (Time 2) of a 10-day voyage. Perceived social support and sense of belonging were also measured at Time 2. A control group of adolescents, who did not take part in the voyage, also had their resilience assessed at two time points, 10 days apart. Result: Adolescents who participated in the AEP, but not those in the control group, displayed an increase in resilience from Time 1 to Time 2. Further, the increase in resilience was related to the adolescents’ sense of belonging, and this effect held when controlling for perceived social support. Conclusion: These findings demonstrate the positive impact AEPs have on adolescents’ resilience and a mechanism through which this occurs.
Damian Scarf
added an update
Damian Scarf
added 2 research items
Article published in Professional Skipper Magazine
Damian Scarf
added an update
 
Damian Scarf
added an update
Just gave a talk at the 3rd International Conference on Social Identity and Health (ICSIH) in Brisbane.
 
Damian Scarf
added a project goal
We are examining the extent to which distinct aspects of social identity (group belonging and group identification) contributes to increases in multiple aspects of positive development (e.g., well-being, self-esteem, resilience, life transitions, etc.).