An Identity Threat Perspective on Intervention

Geoffrey L. Cohen, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns and Julio Garcia

in Stereotype Threat

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199732449
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918508 | DOI:
An Identity Threat Perspective on Intervention

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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 devaluation of one’s group—led to successful interventions that closed the achievement gap in schools, a pervasive social problem in the United States. The interventions include invoking high performance standards, encouraging optimistic interpretations of adversity, and buttressing students’ sense of self-integrity and belonging. All the interventions were tested using randomized field experiments that assessed outcomes over long periods of time, sometimes years. Not only did the interventions lead to positive academic trajectories for ethnic minority students in general and female students in science, they also advanced a theoretical understanding of how identity threat compounds over time through recursive feedback loops. Because of the self-reinforcing nature of recursive cycles, subtle but well-timed interventions can have effects that appear disproportionate to their size and duration. Additionally, the research shows how making the jump from lab to field—from theory to application—can bring to light new theoretical principles related to psychological processes and intervention itself.

Keywords: stereotype threat; academic performance; black–white test score gap; male–female science gap; intervention; affirmation

Chapter.  7825 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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