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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Travel Grant Report by Sébastien Goudeau

16.04.2019, by Tina Keil in grant report

Université Paris Descartes; Research visit to Professor Hazel Rose Markus at Stanford University

From Left: Claude Steele, Sébastien Goudeau and Hazel Markus in total, 2 pictures
From Left: Claude Steele, Sébastien Goudeau and Hazel Markus

Thanks to the EASP travel grant, I had the opportunity to visit Professor Hazel Rose Markus at the Department of Psychology of Stanford University in January and February 2019. The goal of this visit was to work with Professor Markus on two ongoing projects.

The first project is a cross-cultural study that aims to examine how preschool contexts amplify social inequality among young children both in France and in the United States. Indeed, while many studies have investigated the gap in educational outcomes between affluent and poor students in education (e.g., in university settings), very few studies have focused on what happens much earlier when students first become socialized in preschool. Despite very different contexts in terms of how ubiquitous preschool is, the early childhood education systems in both America and France is designed to reduce initial inequalities by providing low SES children with greater familiarity and readiness in counting, speaking and pre-reading. However, existing studies do not fully support the idea that preschool actually reduces initial inequalities in education. Although early and regular attendance in preschool confers to all children –especially low SES children– an advantage in first grade, attending preschool does not reduce social inequalities in educational outcomes. Indeed, low SES children enter first grade lagging behind high SES children in terms of speaking, reading, writing as well as counting skills. In this project, our aim is to understand how teachers and children’s behaviors in preschool settings can unintentionally magnify initial disparities related to SES. Preliminary results obtained in French preschools with a video recording and coding device show that the initial cultural and academic disparities related to SES led children to have different levels of participation in the classroom: Compared to middle and high SES children, low SES children are less likely to speak in collective exchanges (Goudeau, Croizet, Markus, Stephens, & Autin, in preparation). More specifically, they are less likely to be questioned by the teacher and they are also less likely to “take the floor” (i.e., speak without being asked or interrupt). As these situations of collective exchanges especially help children to develop their language skills, an unequal oral participation could significantly contribute to the enhancement of inequalities. This visit was an opportunity to present these preliminary results and discuss about the possible implementation of a replication in the United States. Although cultural differences between the United States and France in early education settings have been depicted in popular books, they have not been yet examined by scientific investigation. Implementing a set of similar observations using quantitative methodology will help us to examine cultural similarities and differences regarding the mechanisms underlying why preschools (at the levels of both children and teachers) do not end up reducing initial disparities related to socioeconomic background.

The second goal of the visit was to work on a theoretical paper that aims to integrate in a unique model several social psychological phenomena known to play a role in the social-class achievement gap. In recent years, major research areas in social psychology – stereotype threat, cultural mismatch, motivation, and more recently social comparison – have led to a significant growth in our understanding of how educational settings contribute to reproduce inequality. These different lines of research highlight the important role that particular characteristics of academic contexts (e.g., independence, competition, stereotype concerns, etc.) can play in fueling inequality. However, these social psychological phenomena have been studied separately and the theory and predictions that emerge from these distinctive lines of research have not been fully articulated. Our paper claims that understanding how academic contexts can undermine working-class student’s achievement – and thus reproduce social inequality – requires an integrated and systematic analysis of the social psychological processes involved in the social class achievement gap. We address this necessity by developing a new unified theoretical model that we refer to as the Social Class-Academic Contexts Mismatch model (Goudeau, Stephens, Markus, & Croizet, in preparation).

Research papers that will result from the visit:

  • Goudeau, S., Croizet, J.-C., Markus, H. R., Stephens, N. M., & Autin, F. (in preparation). Cultural mismatch in preschool: How teachers’ and children’s interactions play a role in the amplification of inequalities.
  • Goudeau, S., Stephens, N. M., Markus, H. R., & Croizet, J. C. (in preparation). Toward an integrated socio-cultural understanding of inequality in education: A Social Class-Academic Contexts (Mis)match Model.