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Recursive Processes in Self-Affirmation: Intervening to Close the Minority Achievement Gap

Authors:
Geoffrey Cohen, University of Colorado, Boulder
Publication Date:
Jan 2009
Published In:
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

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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