Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Self-Affirmation Intervention Approach

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The grant is based on the notion that members of minority groups, such as African Americans and Latino Americans, may experience identity threat in STEM-related courses--concerns about being judged in light of a negative stereotype about the intellectual ability of their ethnic group. This threat may in turn undermine performance. The purpose of this grant is to explore the efficacy of a values affirmation intervention in ameliorating this threat and in closing the achievement gap in middle school math and science. In a series of laboratory studies, we will also zero in on the nature of this intervention effect and its underlying processes.


Middle school research sites (anonymous)
Northeastern and Western university sites (anonymous)

Research Design: 

The project uses a longitudinal, comparative, and cross-sectional research design and will generate evidence that is causal [experimental and statistical modeling]. Original data will be collected on African American and Latino American middle school students using school records, assessments of learning, and self-completion questionnaires. Laboratory studies will involve college students from these underrepresented and underperforming ethnic groups. The effects of values affirmation writing exercises will be compared with neutral writing exercises.

Instruments or measures being used include questionnaires developed to assess belonging, academic motivation, concerns about the racial stereotype, and trust of school officials; official transcripts to assess grades; and laboratory test measures (standardized math tests). Data from previous studies to assess effects in STEM-related courses also will be analyzed. Basic analyses entail relatively simple techniques: analysis of variance, follow-up contrasts (e.g. t-tests), analysis of covariance, and multiple regression. Additionally, hierarchical linear modeling is used to model individual growth curves over time.


Values affirmation is effective at improving achievement of minority middle school students, with effects that persist for 2 years. Effect was also generalized beyond suburban African Americans to immigrant, economically disadvantaged Latino Americans.

Publications & Presentations: 

Cohen, G. L., Garcia, J., Purdie-Vaugns, V., Apfel, N., & Brzustoski, P. (2009). Recursive processes in self-affirmation: Intervening to close the minority achievement gap. Science, 324, 400-403.

Cohen, G. L., & Garcia, J. (2008). Identity, belonging, and achievement: A model, interventions, implications. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 365-369.

Purdie-Vaughns, V., Cohen, G. L., Garcia, J., Sumner, R., Cook, J. C., & Apfel, N. H. (2009). Improving minority academic performance: How a values-affirmation intervention works. Teachers College Record, September 23.

Miyake, A., Kost-Smith, L., Finkelstein, N. D., Pollock, S. J., Cohen, G. L., & Ito, T. A. (in press). Reducing the gender achievement gap in college science: A classroom study of values affirmation. Science.

Cohen, G. L. (in press). Social psychology and educational intervention, J. Hanson (Ed.), Ideology, psychology, and law.