Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Academics and health of minority students improved by brief social-belonging intervention

From Walton and Cohen, who briefly presented to half of the students in the study a narrative that framed social adversity in school as shared and short-lived. The message encouraged students to attribute adversity not to fixed deficits unique to themselves or their ethnic group but to common and transient aspects of the college-adjustment process.
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 transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans’ grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans’ self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention’s impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health.

Raw GPA by student race, experimental condition, and academic term. Means are noncumulative and were combined across cohorts. Ranges in sample sizes and standard errors for European Americans are N = 25 to 33 and SE = 0.08 to 0.14; for African Americans, N = 30 to 37 and SE = 0.09 to 0.12.

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