Securing self-integrity over time: Self-affirmation disrupts a negative cycle between psychological threat and academic performance

Kevin R. Binning, Jonathan E. Cook, Valerie Purdie Greenaway, Julio Garcia, Nancy Apfel, David K. Sherman, Geoffrey L. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Adolescence can be a tumultuous period with numerous threats to self-integrity. A 3-year field experiment tested whether repeated affirmations of self-integrity can help lessen the impact of psychological threat on adolescent (11–14 years old) students’ core course GPA over time. A diverse cohort of students (N = 163) was randomly assigned to a control condition or to an affirmation condition, in which teachers repeatedly administered classroom writing exercises that affirmed students’ personal values. Results showed that affirmation lessened a downward trajectory of GPA over time. In contrast to previous research, this effect occurred among all ethnic groups rather than only among stereotype-threatened ethnic minority groups. Affirmation did not reduce self-reported psychological threat, but it severed its relationship with performance: Among control students, psychological threat predicted lower GPA. Among affirmed students, psychological threat was unrelated to performance. Beyond their practical implications, these results make two theoretical contributions. First, affirmation can have broader benefits than those previously documented among negatively stereotyped groups, if timed to co-occur with different sources of threat that emerge over a long developmental window. Second, the effect of affirmation may not be so much to reduce threat as to disrupt its adverse cognitive and motivational effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Social Issues
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)

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