Exposure to peers’ pro-diversity attitudes increases inclusion and reduces the achievement gap

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Abstract

There is a dearth of empirically validated pro-diversity methods that effectively create a more inclusive social climate. We developed two scalable interventions that target people’s perceptions of social norms by communicating to them that their peers hold pro-diversity attitudes and engage in inclusive behaviours. We tested the interventions in six randomized controlled trials at a large public university in the United States (total n = 2,490). Non-marginalized students exposed to our interventions reported more positive attitudes toward outgroups and greater appreciation of diversity, whereas marginalized students had an increased sense of belonging, reported being treated more inclusively by their peers and earned better grades. While many current pro-diversity initiatives focus on raising awareness about the fact that implicit bias and subtle discrimination are widespread, our findings spotlight the importance of drawing people’s attention to their peers’ pro-diversity values and attitudes to create positive and lasting effects on the social climate.

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Fig. 1: Perceptions of inclusive climate as a function of experimental condition in experiments 1–5.
Fig. 2: Results from the mediation analysis in Experiment 4.
Fig. 3: Perceptions of inclusive climate as a function of experimental condition among marginalized students in Experiment 5.
Fig. 4: Course grades as a function of experimental condition and student privilege in experiment 6.

Data availability

Due to Institutional Review Board restrictions, the data are not publicly available. However, the data are stored on a secure university server and are available upon request (contact markus.brauer@wisc.edu).

Code availability

As for data availability, all R code files can also be provided upon request. All other study materials are included in the Supplementary Information.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the university instructors who allowed us to test our intervention in their classrooms. We thank J. Schwakopf, who played an important role coordinating this research and recruiting instructors to participate. We also thank G. Walton for his feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. This research was partially supported by the Office of the Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer and grant no. 150 PRJ73DX by the College of Letters & Sciences (both University of Wisconsin-Madison). The video was created with the help of M. Mederson. The funders had no role in study conceptualization and design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Contributions

M.B. and S.M. jointly conceived the research and decided on the stimulus material and outcome measures. S.M. created the first drafts of the poster and video and collected data for experiments 1–4. M.C. collected data for experiments 5 and 6. All authors contributed to the analyses of the data. All authors participated in the writing and revision of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Markus Brauer.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary Handling Editors: Mary Elizabeth Sutherland; Aisha Bradshaw.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Effect size estimates and the results of the internal meta-analysis for Experiments 1–5.

Points represent standardized mean difference effect size estimates. The lines around the points represent the 95% confidence intervals. The overall effect of the social norms manipulations was .33, indicating that the inclusive climate score of students in the social norms conditions was on average .33 standard deviation units higher than that of students in the control conditions.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Means and standard deviations broken down by condition, as well as inferential statistics for the outcome variables assessed in Experiment 1.

(a) IMS = Internal Motivation to Respond without Prejudice, EMS = External Motivation to Respond without Prejudice Note: All variables have been recoded so that higher values express greater Inclusive Climate. “(R)” denotes scales that have been inverted from their original scoring to fit this standard. “95% CI” refers to the 95% confidence interval for the effect.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Means and standard deviations broken down by condition, as well as inferential statistics for the outcome variables assessed in Experiment 2.

Note: “95% CI” refers to the 95% confidence interval for the effect.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Means and standard deviations broken down by condition, as well as inferential statistics for the outcome variables assessed in Experiment 3.

Note: “95% CI” refers to the 95% confidence interval for the effect.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Means and standard deviations broken down by condition, as well as inferential statistics for the outcome variables assessed in Experiment 4.

Note: “95% CI” refers to the 95% confidence interval for the effect.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Mediation analyses conducted in Experiments 4 and 5. The effect of the social norms video is mediated by participants’ perceptions of peer norms.

Note: The confidence intervals were computed with 1,000 bootstrapped samples. “95% CI” refers to the 95% confidence interval for the effect.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Means and standard deviations broken down by condition, as well as inferential statistics for the entire sample (both privileged and marginalized students) in Experiment 5.

Note: “Omnibus test” is the two-degree of freedom F test for the condition variable. The “Bias versus Control” and “Social Norms versus Control” columns show the inferential statistics obtained with dummy codes representing these two comparisons. All scales are scored such that higher values indicate more positivity/inclusiveness. “(R)” denotes scales that have been inverted from their original scoring to fit this standard.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Means and standard deviations broken down by condition, as well as inferential statistics for students from marginalized groups only in Experiment 5.

Note: “Omnibus test” is the two degree of freedom F test for the condition variable. The “Bias versus Control” and “Social Norms versus Control” columns show the inferential statistics obtained with dummy codes representing these two comparisons. All scales are scored such that higher values indicate more positivity/inclusiveness. “(R)” denotes scales that have been inverted from their original scoring to fit this standard.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Parameter estimates and inferential statistics for the entire sample (privileged and marginalized students) in Experiment 5 when accounting for the non-independence due to classroom.

Note: We estimated a linear mixed-effects model in which we regressed the outcome variable on the two dummy codes (see Experiment 5 Results) and included a by-classroom random intercept. These results should be interpreted with caution, because 9 (out of 51, that is, 18%) classrooms had 2 or fewer respondents and 19 (37%) had 5 or fewer respondents, leading to substantial volatility in the classroom means (and thus relatively large standard errors of the parameter estimates). With error degrees of freedom around 40, the inferential tests are underpowered. All scales are scored such that higher values indicate more positivity/inclusiveness. “(R)” denotes scales that have been inverted from their original scoring to fit this standard.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Parameter estimates and inferential statistics for students from marginalized groups only in Experiment 5 when accounting for the non-independence due to classroom.

Note: We estimated a linear mixed-effects model in which we regressed the outcome variable on the two dummy codes (see Experiment 5 Results) and included a by-classroom random intercept. These results should be interpreted with caution, because 17 (out of 41, that is, 41%) classrooms with data for students from marginalized groups had 2 or fewer respondents and 28 (68%) had 5 or fewer respondents, leading to substantial volatility in the classroom means (and thus relatively large standard errors of the parameter estimates). All scales are scored such that higher values indicate more positivity/inclusiveness. “(R)” denotes scales that have been inverted from their original scoring to fit this standard.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Correlation Tables 1–5, experimental materials and outcome measures.

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Murrar, S., Campbell, M.R. & Brauer, M. Exposure to peers’ pro-diversity attitudes increases inclusion and reduces the achievement gap. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0899-5

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