On Construals

by F.

Doubt that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”? (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.) Dig this:

African American seventh graders randomly assigned to write about their most important values achieved significantly better end-of-semester grades than students in a control condition.

Here’s the abstract:

Two randomized field experiments tested a social-psychological intervention designed to improve minority student performance and increase our understanding of how psychological threat mediates performance in chronically evaluative real-world environments.

We expected that the risk of confirming a negative stereotype aimed at one’s group could undermine academic performance in minority students by elevating their level of psychological threat. We tested whether such psychological threat could be lessened by having students reaffirm their sense of personal adequacy or “self-integrity.”

The intervention, a brief in-class writing assignment, significantly improved the grades of African American students and reduced the racial achievement gap by 40%.

These results suggest that the racial achievement gap, a major social concern in the United States, could be ameliorated by the use of timely and targeted social-psychological interventions.

The paper is in Science. MindBlog has more.

There are similar results with first-year college students who start to believe their grades will go up after the first year (this construal results in a 0.27 increase in GPA) and college students who are told that intelligence is malleable (resulting in 0.23 increase in GPA). I’ve seen other studies that show the male-female math gap can be narrowed if not eliminated with similar interventions—bascially, they give female engineering students some extra, specially targeted problem sets and it closes most of the sex differential. But I have only an impressionistic memory of that, so I may have it wrong.