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Communities and Cognition Research
Debriefing Form
Thank you very much for taking the time to participate in this research. The study you
have just completed is trying to figure out how feeling a sense of belonging in a community
affects how we feel about ourselves and others, and how we interact with other people. Past
research (e.g., Walton & Cohen, 2011, full citation listed below) shows that when people are led
to feel like they belong more, they feel less anxiety, are happier, and perform better in school.
Much of the research on feeling a sense of belonging show similar positive effects. Little
attention, though, has been paid to the negative consequences of a sense of belonging. Therefore,
the present research aims to examine how feeling like one belongs has a host of positive
consequences, along with some negative consequences. If this is supported in our research, we
will change how we think about designing interventions to increase people’s senses that they
belong, so that we may minimize any of these negative consequences.
In order to test these ideas, we are running a series of studies where we lead some
participants to feel like they belong more or less and then ask them questions about themselves
and others. We hypothesize that people are happier and healthier, cooperate with fellow residents
in their communities more when they feel that they belong, and are more flexible in their
thinking. However, we also hypothesize that when people feel like they belong, they might also
be less friendly toward and less respectful of residents of other communities. For example, if a
liberal person feels like they belong, they may be happier and more cooperative with other liberal
people, but less friendly toward and respectful of conservative people. We also hypothesize that
people who feel like they do not belong will be more cognitively rigid and be less open to new
In the current study, we have designed materials and settings that are particularly likely to
make people feel a sense of belonging or a lack of sense of belonging. You read an article that
described the University of Virginia as becoming more liberal or more conservative. The claims
in this article are not based in any facts, but suggested by the experimenters. To our knowledge,
there is no data suggesting that UVa’s political leanings are changing in any way. You may have
also been asked to discuss political issues with other participants. These were not actual
participants; they were actors working for the experimenters. Half of the time, these actors were
scripted to advocate liberal positions. The other half of the time, these actors were scripted to
advocate conservative positions. Creating this social situation allows us to examine how people
react when their political values are not shared with the majority of the people around them. We
hypothesize that being in the political minority may make people less open-minded and more
rigid in their thinking.
We very much appreciate your help with this scientific project. If you have any questions
about this study, please contact Doctoral Candidate Matt Motyl ([email protected]).
For more information on research on how belonging to groups and specific communities affects
how happy, healthy, cooperative, open-minded, and respectful we are, check out the following:
Bishop, B. (2009). The big sort: Why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart.
Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt.
Haidt, J. (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.
New York, NY: Pantheon Press.
Inzlicht, M. & Good, C. (2006). How environments threaten academic performance, selfknowledge, and sense of belonging. In S. Levin & C. van Laar (Eds.), Stigma and Group
Inequality: Social Psychological Approaches (pp. 129-150). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Oishi, S., & Graham, J. (2010). Social ecology: Lost and found in psychological science.
Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 356-377.
Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic
and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331, 1447-1451.