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Self-affirmation reduces the socioeconomic attainment gap in schools in England

Hadden, Ian Robert, Easterbrook, Matthew John, Nieuwenhuis, Marlon, Fox, Kerry Jane and Dolan, Paul (2020) Self-affirmation reduces the socioeconomic attainment gap in schools in England. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 90 (2). 517 - 536. ISSN 0007-0998

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Identification Number: 10.1111/bjep.12291


Background: Studies in the United States show that school students from some ethnic backgrounds are susceptible to stereotype threat, that this undermines their academic performance, and that a series of virtually zero-cost self-affirmation writing exercises can reduce these adverse effects. In England, however, socioeconomic status (SES) is a much stronger predictor of academic success than is ethnic background. Aims: This study investigates whether self-affirmation writing exercises can help close the SES attainment gap in England by increasing the academic performance of low-SES (but not higher-SES) school students. Sample: Our sample consisted of students aged 11–14 in a secondary school in southern England (N = 562); of these, 128 were eligible for free school meals, a proxy for low SES. Methods: Students completed three short writing exercises throughout one academic year: those randomly assigned to an affirmed condition wrote about values that were important to them, and those assigned to a control condition wrote about a neutral topic. Results: On average, the low-SES students had lower academic performance and reported experiencing more stereotype threat than their higher-SES peers. The self-affirmation raised the academic performance of the low-SES students by 0.38 standard deviations but did not significantly affect the performance of the higher-SES students, thus reducing the SES performance gap by 62%. The self-affirmation also reduced the level of stress reported by the low-SES students. Conclusions: The benefits of this virtually zero-cost intervention compare favourably with those of other interventions targeting the SES academic attainment gap.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 The British Psychological Society
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
L Education
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2019 09:45
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2024 05:09

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