In order to resolve the integration problems of some students belonging to ethnic minorities from Stanford University, Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen performed a psychosocial intervention that, in just an hour, was able to improve the academic performance, psychosocial well-being and health of a negatively stereotyped group in an educational setting.
In other words, it is proven that it is possible to avoid the negative effect of stereotypes, And in just one hour. Let’s see how this conclusion was drawn.
The sense of social belonging and prejudice
The study, published in the journal Science in 2011, showed that socio-economic differences between African-American and European-American students were not only sustained due to structural factors, such as differences in pay, l ‘access to training and social support. While working in the field of social psychology, the two researchers wondered how psychological factors might affect the coping techniques of students at Stanford University.
They focused on the sense of social belongingA basic human social motive defined as the need to form positive relationships with other people. Its importance is such that if it is not satisfied, problems of health, social adaptation, well-being and school performance can appear.
According to Walton and Cohen, members of socially stigmatized groups show greater uncertainty than groups not stigmatized as to their social affiliation in educational or employment establishments. In these scenarios, they are more likely to be unsure of positive social relationships, and this uncertainty increases during the transition to a new stage, i.e. the first year of college.
During the first year of college, it is common for some students to experience a sense of isolation, which affects well-being and performance. Watson and Cohen’s study focused on how to interpret and deal with this feeling as a lack of social belonging or, in turn, as a simple process of transition.
The goal was avoid catastrophic interpretations and achieve perceptual change when coding, the social experience was maintained for the long term. To do this, it was necessary to create in students a “recurring virtuous circle” whereby early improvements in academic performance fostered a sense of belonging, which in turn increased performance.
The usefulness of a one-hour psychosocial intervention
The study was conducted during the first year of college with 92 students, including 49 African-Americans and 43 of European descent. Randomly, some students received an intervention and others were assigned to the control condition, in which no intervention was performed. Participants completed a daily questionnaire that collected their psychological responses to various problems during the week following the intervention. They also filled out a questionnaire 3 years later, During the last year of the diploma, to assess the effects of the study on the sense of belonging, health and well-being.
During the intervention, participants were presented with a purported study conducted with students from other courses, without them realizing that this study was not real. The results of the fake study showed that high school students were concerned about their social standing during the first year of middle school but that as the course progressed they themselves gave in to greater self-confidence. . According to several false witnesses, they became more secure because they began to interpret the problems of the first year of college as something habitual and fleeting during adaptation and not as personal deficits or due to their ethnicity.
In order for participants to internalize the message, they were asked to write an essay on the similarities between their experience and that of witnesses, Essay they later recounted as a speech in front of a video camera. Supposedly, the videos of his speeches would help other students during their freshman year of college.
The procedure with the control group was the same, except that the trials and videos they conducted focused on a topic unrelated to social affiliation.
The results of the intervention
During the week following the intervention, the reaction of African American students to everyday problems was more adaptive and their sense of social belonging remained constant. In contrast, among African-American students in the control condition, the sense of belonging was more unstable and dependent on daily experiences.
Three years later, after conducting the long-term effects questionnaire, it was found that the intervention increased the academic performance of African American students in the control group and significantly reduced the differences between African American and European students. – Americans.
There were also positive effects on the health and well-being of the participants, with marked improvements in the feeling of happiness and even with fewer visits to the doctor by the students of the experimental group. The gap between African-American and European-American students has disappeared in the subjective feeling of health and happiness, and in the number of visits to the doctor.
What can we learn from this study?
Research by Walton and Cohen has shown that a brief intervention on sense of community can significantly improve long-term aspects as important as school performance, health and well-being. They also show that the differences between stigmatized and non-stigmatized groups are not only due to structural factors, As psychological factors also influence.
It is possible to work on psychological factors such as concern for social belonging through psychosocial interventions that are short-term, easy to apply and inexpensive, but for this it is essential that the school environment is not overtly hostileBecause the study is based on a change of interpretation in the face of ambiguous situations.
It should be noted that this intervention is a clear example of what the biopsychosocial concept means, as it demonstrates the reciprocal link between physical health, cognitions, emotions, behavior and social factors.