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Can the effect of prejudice against minorities be prevented?

Can the effect of prejudice against minorities be prevented?

July 25, 2022

In order to solve the problems of integration of some students belonging to ethnic minorities from Stanford University, Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen conducted a psychosocial intervention that, in just one hour, was able to improve the academic results, psychosocial well-being and health of a negatively stereotyped group in the educational environment.

In other words, there is evidence that it is possible to prevent the negative effect of stereotypes , and in just one hour. Let's see how this conclusion was reached.

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The feeling of social belonging and prejudices

The study, published in 2011 in the journal Science, showed that socioeconomic differences among African-American and European-American students were not only maintained due to structural factors, such as salary differences, accessibility to educational training and social support. Working in the field of social psychology, both researchers asked how they could affect psychological factors to the coping techniques of students at Stanford University.


They focused on the feeling of social belonging , a 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, welfare and school performance may appear.

According to Walton and Cohen, members of socially stigmatized groups show greater uncertainty that the groups do not stigmatized about their social belonging in educational or labor institutions. They have a greater predisposition to feel insecure about positive social relationships in these scenarios, and this uncertainty increases during the transition to a new stage, that is, the first year of university.


During the first year of college it is common for some students to experience a sense of isolation, which affects well-being and performance. The study by Watson and Cohen focused on how to interpret and deal with that feeling as a lack of social belonging or, on the contrary, as a mere transition process.

The objective was avoid catastrophic interpretations and achieve that perceptual change when coding the social experience, it was maintained in the long term. For this it was necessary to create a "recurring virtuous circle" in the students according to which the initial improvements in academic performance favored the feeling of belonging, and this in turn boosted performance.

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The usefulness of a one-hour psychosocial intervention

The study was conducted during the first year of university of 92 students, of which 49 were African-American and 43 of European origin. At random, some students received intervention and others were assigned to the control condition, in which no intervention was performed. The participants completed a daily questionnaire that gathered their psychological responses to different problems during the week following the intervention. They also completed a questionnaire 3 years later , in the last year of the race, to evaluate the effects of the study on the feeling of belonging, health and well-being.


During the intervention, participants were presented with an alleged study conducted with students from other courses, without knowing that the study was not real. The results of the false study showed that students in higher education courses were concerned about their social affiliation during the first year of university but that, as the course progressed, they were giving way to greater self-confidence. According to several false testimonies, they gained security because they began to interpret the problems of the first year of university as something habitual and temporary during the adaptation and not as personal deficits or due to their ethical membership.

For participants to internalize the message, they were asked to write an essay on the similarities between his experience and that of the testimonies , essay that later narrated by way of speech in front of a video camera. Supposedly, the videos of his speeches would help other students during their first year of university.

The procedure with the control group was the same, except that the essays and videos they made were about a topic unrelated to social belonging.

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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, in African-American students the condition of control, the feeling of belonging was more unstable and dependent on daily experiences .

Three years later, after completing the questionnaire on long-term effects, it was found that the intervention increased the academic performance of African-American students compared to the control group, and significantly reduced the differences between African-American and European-American students.

Positive effects on the health and well-being of the participants were also found, with notable improvements in the feeling of happiness and even with a lower number of visits to the doctor by the students of the experimental group. The difference between African-American and European-American students disappeared in the subjective feeling of health and happiness, and in the number of visits to the doctor.

What can we draw from this study?

The research of Walton and Cohen showed that a brief intervention on the feeling of social belonging is able to significantly and in the long term improve important aspects such as academic performance, health and well-being. They also show that the differences between stigmatized and non-stigmatized groups are not only born of structural factors , because the psychological factors also influence.

It is possible to work on psychological factors such as concern for social belonging through psychosocial interventions of short duration, easy application and low cost, but for this It is essential that the school environment is not overtly hostile , since the study is based on a change of interpretation in ambiguous situations.

It should be noted that this intervention is a clear example of what the biopsychosocial concept means, since it demonstrates the reciprocal connection between physical health, cognitions, emotions, behavior and social factors.


Prejudice & Discrimination: Crash Course Psychology #39 (July 2022).


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