Social Identity Threat and Intervention

Social identity threat. People who belong to stigmatized groups may wonder if their group is valued and seen as belonging in academic and work settings. This social identity threat not only raises anxieties over confirming negative group stereotypes, but also can cause stress that directly undermines performance.

Our lab addresses the impact of identity threat using diverse approaches: We investigate identity threat’s impact over time, using longitudinal methods; we explore the phenomenon in real-world settings, such as actual classrooms and workplaces; and we examine the issue at the neurobiological level, exploring identity threat’s “under the skin” impact on intellectual performance and cardiovascular disease. These methods have yielded findings on two key levels:

Affirmation interventions reduce social identity threat. At the level of the individual, we have developed threat interventions based on self-affirmation theory (reinforcing the self as an adequate, competent person to combat negative stereotype threat). Our focus on reducing the threat of academic situations for negatively stereotyped students explores not only how academic performance is enhanced, but also the neurobiological markers underlying this process.

Interplay between macro social context and psychology in predicting identity threat. At the broader, structural level, we explore how psychological interventions interact with factors deriving from society and organizations. We have tested a "symbolic firsts" hypothesis, proposing that iconic African American leaders (e.g. President Obama) affect students’ psychological experiences of and their performance on academic tasks. For instance, a double-blind, longitudinal-field study of racial minority middle school students found that those who reflected on President Obama’s election shortly after it occurred showed boosts in their short-term GPA.

Sample Publications

Cook, J.E., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., & Cohen, G.L. (2012). Chronic threat and contingent belonging: Protective benefits of values affirmation on identity development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(3), 479-496. | download pdf

Purdie-Vaughns, V., Sumner, R., Cook, J. E., Cohen, G. L., & Garcia, J. (2011). Malia and Sasha: Re-envisioning Black youth. In G. S. Parks (Ed.), Obama and a post-racial America? (pp. 166-192). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. | download pdf

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