Home » Uncategorized » old post: Race, gender, achievement gaps, and belonging

old post: Race, gender, achievement gaps, and belonging

From 2012

If you are a minority, one of the vexing problems can  be figuring out if you belong. Feedback can be suspect. For instance,  there's good evidence that Whites display a positivity bias in  feedback, giving more positive feedback to Blacks than Whites for  identical performance. But there is also certainly prejudice in the  world, so some feedback to Blacks arises from that prejudice rather than  from performance deficits.  So...that creates "attributional  ambiguity."  Is that good feedback because of actual performance or  because of positivity bias?  Is the bad feedback due to actual  performance or prejudice? This ambiguity can lead to some perverse  consequences.  For instance, Jennifer Crocker and Brenda Major have  found that Blacks who can attribute positive feedback to positivity bias  actually show a drop in self-esteem after receiving positive feedback.  (They also find that the ability to attribute negative feedback to  prejudice keeps self-esteem from dropping after negative feedback.) 
If you can't trust feedback, how can you know if you fit in? And if  you don't know whether you fit in, will that affect your work?
That leads to a terrific talk I heard last night here in San Diego  (at the annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social  Psychology). Perhaps interventions that make minority members feel that  they belong will help their performance. Greg Walton of Stanford  described two studies on this topic.
In the first, first-year students were given a one hour intervention  in which older students described overcoming their challenges at  belonging. They said it took awhile, but they eventually found friends  as good as their high school friends. And there were struggles in the  classroom, but they eventually learned from them. Other first year  students were randomly assigned to a control group. They followed the  students through to senior year. The GPA for White students increased  over time, regardless of condition. But the GPA for Black students in  the control condition was flat. ; Can a one hour intervention make a  difference in that? Yup. Black students who got that one hour  belongingness intervention had their GPA go up over time, too. Compared  to the control condition, over 70% of the racial difference in GPA in  senior year disappeared in the group that got the belongingness  intervention. Oh, and that one hour intervention also eliminated  differences between Black and White students in self-reported health in  senior year, to boot. OK, another "oh. Walton over several days asked  people about the hassles they experienced that day and about how much  belonging they felt. For Whites, there was no relation of having  hassles with feelings of belonging. (Bad days didn't make them feel  they did not belong.) For Blacks in the control, there was a pretty  hefty relationship. On days with hassles, they felt much less like they  belonged. But....Blacks in the belongingness condition showed no  correlation. They felt no less belonging on days with hassles than days  without.
One hour.
One hour can change behavior over the course of years.
The second study examined women in engineering programs. Some got a  similar belongingness intervention.Some got an "affirmation"  intervention, in which older students talked about dealing with their  struggles by recalling their values and acting on them. A third set of  students was randomly assigned to a control condition. Both the  belongingness intervention and the affirmation intervention boosted the  GPA of women engineers. (If I recall correctly, the interventions  didn't do anything for guys.) Interestingly, the interventions changed  social networks. Compared to the control condition, the women in the  belongingness group developed more friendships with male engineers.  Compared to the control group, the women in the affirmation group  developed more friendships with non-engineers. And these friendship  pattern changes partially accounted for why the interventions boosted  GPA.
It's a daunting world out there. Often it's hard to know if we  belong, and to know if we can trust feedback about how we are doing. Part of the answer to that is to give as unambiguous feedback as  possible so that the feedback is clearly tied to performance and not  attributable to either positivity bias or prejudice. But maybe another  part is to have those of us who have felt that we didn't belong tell  those younger that yup, we felt that way. And we found friends. And we  learned from our struggles and improved our work.
It gets better.
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