New Evidence on Self-Affirmation Effects and Theorized Sources of Heterogeneity From Large-Scale Replications

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Abstract

Brief, targeted self-affirmation writing exercises have recently been offered as a way to reduce racial achievement gaps, but evidence about their effects in educational settings is mixed, leaving ambiguity about the likely benefits of these strategies if implemented broadly. A key limitation in interpreting these mixed results is that they come from studies conducted by different research teams with different procedures in different settings; it is therefore impossible to isolate whether different effects are the result of theorized heterogeneity, unidentified moderators, or idiosyncratic features of the different studies. We addressed this limitation by conducting a well-powered replication of self-affirmation in a setting where a previous large-scale field experiment demonstrated significant positive impacts, using the same procedures. We found no evidence of effects in this replication study and estimates were precise enough to reject benefits larger than an effect size of 0.10. These null effects were significantly different from persistent benefits in the prior study in the same setting, and extensive testing revealed that currently theorized moderators of self-affirmation effects could not explain the difference. These results highlight the potential fragility of self-affirmation in educational settings when implemented widely and the need for new theory, measures, and evidence about the necessary conditions for self-affirmation success.

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