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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 May;100(5):838-52. doi: 10.1037/a0021956.

Middle class and marginal? Socioeconomic status, stigma, and self-regulation at an elite university.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


In four studies, the authors investigated the proposal that in the context of an elite university, individuals from relatively lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds possess a stigmatized identity and, as such, experience (a) concerns regarding their academic fit and (b) self-regulatory depletion as a result of managing these concerns. Study 1, a correlational study, revealed the predicted associations between SES, concerns about academic fit, and self-regulatory strength. Results from Studies 2 and 3 suggested that self-presentation involving the academic domain is depleting for lower (but not higher) SES students: After a self-presentation task about academic achievement, lower SES students consumed more candy (Study 2) and exhibited poorer Stroop performance (Study 3) relative to their higher SES peers; in contrast, the groups did not differ after discussing a nonacademic topic (Study 3). Study 4 revealed the potential for eliminating the SES group difference in depletion via a social comparison manipulation. Taken together, these studies support the hypothesis that managing concerns about marginality can have deleterious consequences for self-regulatory resources.

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