Inside the Black Box of Self-Affirmation: Which Parts of Affirmation Exercises Are Critical for Treatment EfficacyReport as inadecuate

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Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness

Steele and Aronson (1995) hypothesized that underperformance in academics by minority students might be partially due to a newly identified phenomenon: "stereotype threat." Stereotype threat is defined as the anxiety or fear that an individual might experience because of the negative stereotypes about a group associated with that individual. Self-affirmation has been found to alleviate the effects of stereotype threat. Self-affirmation is an intervention that allows students to buffer themselves from the deleterious effects of stereotype threat by bolstering their sense of self-integrity. In a district-wide randomized controlled trial, Hanselman et al. (2014) found that self-affirmation only benefited minority students in schools with two important characteristics related to stereotype threat: schools with relatively larger racial achievement gaps and relatively fewer minority students. This study examines students' written responses from the Hanselman et al. (2014) district-wide scale-up study of self-affirmation to investigate how what students write on self-affirmation exercises might mediate the effects of treatment on students' GPA. Research occurred in all eleven middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District from 2011-2014, and focused on the 310 African American and Latino students who were consented assented for the study (out of 910 total students in the study). Students entered the study in seventh grade and were followed through ninth grade for the purposes of this analysis. The treatment exercise consisted of the self-affirmation intervention developed by Cohen and colleagues (2006), which asked students to write about values they thought were important from a set list. The research team developed a qualitative coding scheme with the intent of identifying treatment compliance. It is important to note that Instrumental Variable (IV) methods provide unbiased estimates specifically for the population of individuals for whom the instrument induced change. Key findings include: (1) There are detectable effects of self-affirmation intervention for potentially threatened students overall across all years; (2) All of the effects of self-affirmation writing are concentrated in putatively more threatening schools contexts, those characterized by relatively smaller African American and Latino populations and larger achievement gaps; and (3) The estimated effects of self-affirming writing grow larger over time, suggesting lasting and increasing benefits of the writing activity over time. Tables and figures are appended. [For Hanselman et al.'s "Threat in Context: School Moderation of the Impact of Social Identity Threat on Racial/Ethnic Achievement Gaps" (2014), see EJ1021010.]

Descriptors: Middle School Students, African American Students, Hispanic American Students, Stereotypes, Anxiety, Intervention, Activities, Self Concept, Self Expression, Program Effectiveness, Grade Point Average, Least Squares Statistics, Statistical Analysis, Compliance (Psychology)

Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. 2040 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208. Tel: 202-495-0920; Fax: 202-640-4401; e-mail: inquiries[at]; Web site:

Author: Rozek, Christopher S.; Hanselman, Paul; Feldman, Rachel C.; Quast, Erin A.; Crawford, Evan P.; Borman, Geoffrey D.


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