Breaking the cycle of mistrust: wise interventions to provide critical feedback across the racial divide

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Apr;143(2):804-24. doi: 10.1037/a0033906. Epub 2013 Aug 12.


Three double-blind randomized field experiments examined the effects of a strategy to restore trust on minority adolescents' responses to critical feedback. In Studies 1 and 2, 7th-grade students received critical feedback from their teacher that, in the treatment condition, was designed to assuage mistrust by emphasizing the teacher's high standards and belief that the student was capable of meeting those standards--a strategy known as wise feedback. Wise feedback increased students' likelihood of submitting a revision of an essay (Study 1) and improved the quality of their final drafts (Study 2). Effects were generally stronger among African American students than among White students, and particularly strong among African Americans who felt more mistrusting of school. Indeed, among this latter group of students, the 2-year decline in trust evident in the control condition was, in the wise feedback condition, halted. Study 3, undertaken in a low-income public high school, used attributional retraining to teach students to attribute critical feedback in school to their teachers' high standards and belief in their potential. It raised African Americans' grades, reducing the achievement gap. Discussion centers on the roles of trust and recursive social processes in adolescent development.

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
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Child
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Educational Measurement
  • Faculty
  • Feedback, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Students / psychology
  • Trust / psychology*
  • Whites / psychology*