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Group Differences Revisited: The Role of Social Identity Threat and Cultural Models in the Experience of Diversity

This project is generously funded by the Russell Sage Foundation.

The "Group Differences Revisited" project proposes to examine the general question of how a diverse society like ours incorporates long discriminated-against minorities into its mainstream. Its chief focus is on how this incorporation plays out in society’s institutions of upward mobility, school, and the workplace. Its aims are threefold: a) to identify the broad cultural models or ideologies that guide and construct this incorporation process; b) to identify the forms of social identity threat that typically characterize the process; and c) to assess the role that these factors play in causing underperformance of these minority groups in school and the workplace—the "achievement gap" problem—and in enabling diverse settings to function for the benefit of all.

This project has a theoretical aim: To develop understandings that incorporate the "content" of different group experiences as well as the more general "processes" of ingroup-outgroup differentiation that currently prevail in the social psychological literature on intergroup relations. This latter approach has produced profound insights, especially about the minimal degree of group differentiation that is capable of spawning intergroup discrimination. But often it also portrays groups as ahistorical, culture-free social categories. Analysis tries to add to this earlier work frameworks for understanding the specific group experiences and outcomes that shape specific group interactions—for example, cultural models and stereotype-based processes that produce specific threats attached to specific social identities.

This initiative has three interrelated research projects. The first two explore basic processes by which social context factors affect individual experience and behavior, and the third (The Stanford Integrated Schools Project) evaluates the role of these processes in mediating achievement and relational outcomes in real school settings.

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