Does a Self-Affirmation Intervention Reduce Stereotype Threat in Black and Hispanic High Schools?
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The risk of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s social group, known as stereotype threat, depresses academic achievement among students of color and contributes to racial gaps in achievement. Some work finds that stereotype threat may be alleviated through self-affirmation exercises, translating into improved performance among students vulnerable to threat. However, this work has been conducted primarily in settings where students of color represent a relatively small segment of the student population. The current study explores whether this intervention is efficacious in schools where students of color are the majority. Through a randomized controlled trial of 886 students in three high schools (one predominantly black, one predominantly Hispanic, and one mixed race school), we administered self-affirmation exercises over the course of an academic year. We find no clear evidence that self-affirmation promoted higher standardized test scores or higher grades within the sample. The null findings highlight the complex nature of academic challenges in segregated contexts and raise important questions about the nature of stereotype thereat in such contexts. Importantly, this suggests that solely enhancing self-integrity may not be sufficient to close academic race-based gaps.
KeywordsStereotype threat Racial/ethnic achievement gaps School context Racial composition
The authors thank Professor Geoffrey Cohen for generously providing our research team with the self-affirmation instrument, Professor Geoffrey Borman for insights provided in early stages on this project, Professor Ruth N. López Turley, Dr. Holly Heard, and other members of the Houston Education Research Consortium research team for assistance as well as their insightful comments on earlier versions of this paper. The authors especially thank the school district for their partnership and assistance in carrying out this research project. This research was supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Any views or opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the district, the foundation, or its employees.
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