Self‐affirmation reduces the socioeconomic attainment gap in schools in England

Ian Hadden, Matthew Easterbrook, Marlon Nieuwenhuis, Kerry Fox, Paul Dolan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background: Studies in the United States show that school students from some ethnic backgrounds are susceptible to stereotype threat, that this undermines their academic performance, and that a series of virtually zero-cost self-affirmation writing exercises can reduce these adverse effects. In England, however, socioeconomic status (SES) is a much stronger predictor of academic success than is ethnic background. Aims: This study investigates whether self-affirmation writing exercises can help close the SES attainment gap in England by increasing the academic performance of low-SES (but not higher-SES) school students. Sample: Our sample consisted of students aged 11–14 in a secondary school in southern England (N = 562); of these, 128 were eligible for free school meals, a proxy for low SES. Methods: Students completed three short writing exercises throughout one academic year: those randomly assigned to an affirmed condition wrote about values that were important to them, and those assigned to a control condition wrote about a neutral topic. Results: On average, the low-SES students had lower academic performance and reported experiencing more stereotype threat than their higher-SES peers. The self-affirmation raised the academic performance of the low-SES students by 0.38 standard deviations but did not significantly affect the performance of the higher-SES students, thus reducing the SES performance gap by 62%. The self-affirmation also reduced the level of stress reported by the low-SES students. Conclusions: The benefits of this virtually zero-cost intervention compare favourably with those of other interventions targeting the SES academic attainment gap.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)517-536
    JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2019

    Bibliographical note

    This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in British Journal of Educational Psychology on 04/06/2018, available online:


    • attainment gap
    • schools
    • self-affirmation
    • socioeconomic status
    • stereotype threat


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