New environments, such as starting college or a new job, make people worry about whether they will be accepted by others. These concerns can be amplified when people belong to underrepresented, stereotyped, or devalued social groups (e.g., women in STEM fields, ethnic minority students). Research suggests that underrepresented students worry about whether they belong in college settings, and these concerns interfere with achievement. In fact, experimental research aimed at reducing belonging concerns has been shown to reduce race-based achievement gaps by over 50%.
What did this research look like? Researchers Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen randomly assigned White and African American college freshman to receive a social-belonging intervention (i.e., treatment group) or to serve in a “non-treated” control group. The social-belonging intervention was predicted to have the largest effect for African American students, for whom belonging concerns are especially relevant given numerical underrepresentation and academic stereotypes. Students assigned to the treatment group read testimonials from older students about how their concerns about “fitting in” at college diminished with time. These testimonials described belonging concerns as temporary and common to all students (i.e., not just ethnic minority students). Students not receiving the treatment (i.e., control group) read testimonials about developing “social-political” views over time.
|Computer Science Stereotypes|
Feelings of belonging and acceptance have implications not just during our awkward teen years, but also in adulthood, in ways as profound as shaping college trajectories and influencing career decisions. These outcomes are especially important for fostering diversity and even social mobility. Research studies, such as those described above, hold promise for making school and work environments more inclusive.
Can you believe a 1-hour intervention can have that dramatic of an effect? Have you had situations where you didn’t feel like you belonged? What did you do to change that?
- Walton, G., & Cohen, G. (2007). A question of belonging: Race, social fit, and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (1), 82-96 DOI: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52
- Walton GM, & Cohen GL (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science (New York, N.Y.), 331 (6023), 1447-51 PMID: 21415354
- Cheryan, S., Plaut, V., Davies, P., & Steele, C. (2009). Ambient belonging: How stereotypical cues impact gender participation in computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97 (6), 1045-1060 DOI: 10.1037/a0016239
Michelle Rheinschmidt is a Ph.D. candidate in the social and personality psychology program at UC Berkeley. Her research explores how membership to different social groups (ethnic and social class groups, in particular) influences interpersonal behavior and educational experiences.