Confidence Boosters

Even at elite colleges, underrepresented minority students obtain lower GPAs than majority students. Two Stanford researchers hypothesized that a reason for this performance gap could be the minority students’ lack of confidence.

So they conducted a randomized controlled trial in which some first-year students read essays by upperclassmen of all races about how they too had trouble fitting into college at first. The nontreatment group read essays that had nothing to do with belonging.

After this short intervention, the investigators tracked the students until the end of college. They found that African-American students in the treatment group had higher GPAs and greater levels of happiness. The readings had no effect on white students. They published their results in Science.

If a brief confidence boosting halved the achievement gap, then imagine what more concerted efforts to address students’ self stereotyping could accomplish. The study also points to the social origins of academic performance.

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