Deflecting the trajectory and changing the narrative: how self-affirmation affects academic performance and motivation under identity threat

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013 Apr;104(4):591-618. doi: 10.1037/a0031495. Epub 2013 Feb 11.


To the extent that stereotype and identity threat undermine academic performance, social psychological interventions that lessen threat could buffer threatened students and improve performance. Two studies, each featuring a longitudinal field experiment in a mixed-ethnicity middle school, examined whether a values affirmation writing exercise could attenuate the achievement gap between Latino American and European American students. In Study 1, students completed multiple self-affirmation (or control) activities as part of their regular class assignments. Latino American students, the identity threatened group, earned higher grades in the affirmation than control condition, whereas White students were unaffected. The effects persisted 3 years and, for many students, continued into high school by lifting their performance trajectory. Study 2 featured daily diaries to examine how the affirmation affected psychology under identity threat, with the expectation that it would shape students' narratives of their ongoing academic experience. By conferring a big-picture focus, affirmation was expected to broaden construals, prevent daily adversity from being experienced as identity threat, and insulate academic motivation from identity threat. Indeed, affirmed Latino American students not only earned higher grades than nonaffirmed Latino American students but also construed events at a more abstract than concrete level and were less likely to have their daily feelings of academic fit and motivation undermined by identity threat. Discussion centers on how social-psychological processes propagate themselves over time and how timely interventions targeting these processes can promote well-being and achievement.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Educational Status*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mexican Americans / psychology*
  • Motivation*
  • Narrative Therapy*
  • Self Care / psychology
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Values*
  • Students / psychology*
  • United States
  • White People / psychology*
  • Writing