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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. SarahEMJohnson@gmail.com


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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