Targeted Identity-Safety Interventions Cause Lasting Reductions in Discipline Citations Among Negatively Stereotyped Boys

Targeted Identity-Safety Interventions Cause Lasting Reductions in Discipline Citations Among Negatively Stereotyped Boys

By
Parker Goyer, Geoffrey Lawrence Cohen, Jonathan Cook, Allison Master, Nancy Apfel, Wonhee Lee, Amelia Henderson, Stephanie Reeves, Jason Okonofua, Gregory Walton
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. August
2019, Vol. 117, Issue 2, Pages 229-259

High rates of discipline citations predict adverse life outcomes, a harm disproportionately borne by Black and Latino boys. We hypothesized that these citations arise in part from negative cycles of interaction between students and teachers, which unfold in contexts of social stereotypes. Can targeted interventions to facilitate identity safety—a sense of belonging, inclusion, and growth—for students help? Experiment 1 combined social-belonging, values-affirmation, and growth-mindset interventions delivered in several class sessions in 2 middle schools with a large Latino population (N = 669). This treatment reduced citations among negatively stereotyped boys in 7th and 8th grades by 57% as compared with a randomized control condition, 95% CI [−77%, −20%]. A growth-mindset only treatment was also effective (70% reduction, 95% CI [−84%, −43%]). Experiment 2 tested the social-belonging intervention alone, a grade earlier, at a third school with a large Black population and more overall citations (N = 137 sixth-grade students). In 2 class sessions, students reflected on stories from previous 7th-grade students, which represented worries about belonging and relationships with teachers early in middle school as normal and as improving with time. This exercise reduced citations among Black boys through the end of high school by 65%, 95% CI [−85%, −15%], closing the disparity with White boys over 7 years by 75%. Suggesting improved interactions with teachers, longitudinal analyses found that the intervention prevented rises in citations involving subjective judgments (e.g., “insubordination”) within 6th and 7th grades. It also forestalled the emergence of worries about being seen stereotypically by the end of 7th grade. Identity threat can give rise to cycles of interaction that are maladaptive for both teachers and students in school; targeted exercises can interrupt these cycles to improve disciplinary outcomes over years.