The classroom can be an extremely influential setting. Outside of a child’s home, it is where they absorb much of what they know about the world, it is where they establish their early relationships and it is where they develop their initial opinions and attitudes about what they see around them. Overall the classroom represents an ideal place to positively influence a young person’s development.
Given this insight, researchers from Stanford, Yale, Columbia and Penn State collaborated in a joint research project that aimed to examine whether a simple classroom-based psychological intervention applied to a select group in the class, would affect the wider class environment. Based on previous research which had highlighted this specific intervention as being helpful for buffering the negative consequences that racial stereotyping can have on academic performance, the research team asked specific members of the class who were African-American to write regular affirmations about their most important values (e.g. what kind of person or friend they want to be or what they want their lives to look like). This intervention, though simple as it may seem, has been shown to contribute to increased academic performance for the individuals involved.
On an interesting level, this research team led by psychological scientist Joseph Power from Stanford University replicated the same effect in their wide scale study that took place in 60 separate elementary school classrooms. On an even more interesting level however is what effect these individual changes had on the wider classroom environment. Power and his colleagues found that the grades of the individuals who were in the same class of those who participated in the intervention but who had not participated themselves, improved also, regardless of their ethnicities. What is more is that their analysis revealed these changes to be quite significant and demonstrated that they occurred most prominently in the classrooms where more individuals had participated.
So what do these findings mean?
Well firstly, they demonstrate how extremely simple but effective classroom interventions can impact positively on how an individual experiences racial stereotypes and how said stereotypes affect how they perform academically. This alone can have ramifications for how that individual performs further down the line. Additionally and perhaps most significantly, the findings illustrate how individual interventions can influence and shape the wider environment. In this case, the effect that the intervention had for those individuals that were randomly selected to participate, influenced how the wider classroom performed. These findings therefore demonstrate the vast potential that individual therapeutic processes can have on the wider environment. Though the classroom is an obvious environment for this to occur, it is interesting to consider how this effect would manifest in a familial group, or in a company or even in the wider society. Thus though this area of research is in its infancy, there is significant interest in how it will move forward.
Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.