Feeling left out, but affirmed: Protecting against the negative effects of low belonging in college

Kristin Layous, Eden M. Davis, Julio Garcia, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, Jonathan E. Cook, Geoffrey L. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Evaluative domains such as work and school present daily threats to self-integrity that can undermine performance. Self-affirmation theory asserts that, when threatened, people can perform small but meaningful acts to reaffirm their sense of competency. For instance, brief self-affirmation writing interventions have been shown in numerous studies to boost the academic achievement of those contending with negative stereotypes in school because of their race, gender, or generational status. The current paper tested the protective effects of self-affirmation for students who have the subjective sense that they do not belong in college. Such a feeling is not as visible as race or gender but, as a pervasive part of the students’ inner world, might still be as debilitating to the students’ academic performance. Among a predominantly White sample of college undergraduates, students who felt a low sense of belonging declined in grade point average (GPA) over three semesters. In contrast, students who reported low belonging, but affirmed their core values in a lab-administered self-affirmation writing activity, gained in GPA over time, with the effect of affirmation sufficiently strong to yield a main effect among the sample as a whole. The affirmation intervention mitigated—and even reversed—the decline in GPA among students with a low sense of belonging in college, providing support for self-affirmation theory's contention that affirmations of personal integrity can lessen psychological threat regardless of its source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-231
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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