Study Finds That Simple Exercises Designed to Improve Self-Esteem Can Reduce the Black-White Achievement Gap

A remarkable new study authored by Geoffrey Cohen, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, and Julio Garcia, an associate research scientist at Yale University, finds that a simple academic exercise in boosting self-esteem can significantly reduce the academic achievement gap between blacks and whites.

The study, published in the highly regarded journal Science, reports that when African-American students were given an in-class writing assignment designed to boost their self-esteem at the start of the school year, their grades improved by three tenths of a point on a four-point grade scale. White students who were given the assignment did not show any improvement in their grades.

A control group of African-American students was given a different assignment that did not seek to reaffirm the students’ self-esteem. This group showed no improvement in closing the racial gap.

The authors refer to research by Stanford psychologist Claude Steele and others which contends that African-American students are subjected to high levels of stress in the classroom stemming from negative stereotypes that depict them as intellectually inferior to whites. This stress, in turn, leads to academic underperformance which supports the stereotype.

The authors believe so-called self-affirmation exercises used on a larger scale could result in a lowering of the racial achievement gap.