Becker Friedman Institute

Research Repository

Research. Insights. Impact. Advancing the Legacy of Chicago Economics.

A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students

A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen's sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N=92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N=49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N=43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans' grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans' self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention's impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health.

Authors: 
Greg Walton, Stanford University
Geoffrey Cohen
Publication Date: 
March, 2011
HCEO Working Groups: 
Publication Type: 
Journal: 
Science
Volume: 
331
Issue Number: 
6023
Pages: 
1447-1451