RTRL.54: Can Empathy Reduce Implicit Bias? (Whitford & Emerson, 2019)

Source:

Whitford, D. K., Emerson, A. M. (2019). Empathy intervention to reduce implicit bias in pre-service teachers. Psychological Reports, 122(2), 670-688.

What did the researchers want to know?

Can a brief intervention designed to solicit empathy for Black individuals reduce implicit bias among white preservice teachers?

What did the researchers do?

Whitford and Emerson randomly assigned 34 white preservice teachers to two groups, both of which completed the Race Implicit Association Test as a measure of their implicit bias at the beginning of the study. Next, each group was asked to read either the experimental or control group passage, type their thoughts and feelings for 10 minutes after reading, and then complete the Implicit Association Test again. Participants in the control group read an article about integrating technology into elementary science lessons and were asked to write about how this made them feel, what they liked about it, and how they might improve the lessons. Participants in the experimental group read descriptions of 10 personal experiences of explicit racism from Black student peers, and they were asked to imagine themselves in the Black students’ situations and write about how this made them feel, how they would have reacted, and how these experiences might be prevented.

What did the researchers find?

Although the two groups did not differ on their Implicit Association Test scores before the intervention, there was a statistically significant difference between the groups’ post-intervention scores. Possible scores range from -2.0 to 2.0, with scores closer to zero indicating  less bias. While the control group mean only went from 0.53 to 0.47, the experimental group mean went from 0.57 to 0.18, indicating significantly less implicit bias after the intervention. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

Whitford and Emerson’s results suggest experiences soliciting empathy can be effective in reducing negative bias toward Black individuals. Specifically, White teachers who consider and empathize with Black students’ experiences with explicit racism may show less bias toward Black students, thereby reducing discriminatory discipline. Okonofua and Eberhardt found in this study that teachers responded more harshly to behavior infractions committed by students with Black-sounding names than with White-sounding names. However, according to Whitford and Emerson, “our results indicate that teacher training aimed at racial consciousness, and personal awareness of implicit bias holds promise for promoting empathy within the education workforce” (p. 680). Similarly, Okonofua, Paunesku, and Walton found in this study that teachers who take an empathic mindset punish students less severely and that their students have greater respect for them and are more motivated to behave well in the future. As Whitford and Emerson state, “School discipline inequality is one of the major contributors to the prison pipe-line for at-risk children and adolescents, but it does not have to be” (p. 682). Empathy interventions can be one effective strategy for turning the tide.

E01.10: An Impromptu Episode

In this episode, I reflect a bit about recent events and share some thoughts on what we can do as music educators and MLT practitioners.

E01.10: An Impromptu Episode

Mentioned in this episode:


Support the podcast by becoming a patron on Patreon!


Host: Heather Nelson Shouldice


Sponsors: GIA Publications, Inc., Gordon Institute for Music Learning


Podcast Cover Art: Tyler Nordstrom


Intro/Outro Music: Heather Nelson Shouldice


If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email them to everydaymusicality@gmail.com!

RTRL.43: Race and Perceptions of Student Misbehavior (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015)

Source:

Okonofua, J. A., & Eberhardt, J. L. (2015). Two strikes: Race and the disciplining of young students. Psychological Science, 26(5), 617-624.

What did the researchers want to know?

Does race influence teachers’ perceptions of student misbehavior?

What did the researchers do?

Okonofua and Eberhardt conducted two related studies.

Study #1:

The researchers recruited 57 K-12 teachers (38 white, 2 black, 1 Asian, 16 of unknown race) from various school districts across the United States. They showed each teacher a school record for a middle school student who had misbehaved twice, asking them to imagine they were the student’s teacher. The student was assigned either a stereotypically Black name (Darnell or Deshawn) or a stereotypically White name (Greg or Jake). After reading about each of the student’s two behavior infractions (one for insubordination and one for class disturbance), the teacher was asked to answer the following questions on a scale ranging from 1, not at all, to 7, extremely:

  • How severe was the student’s misbehavior?
  • To what extent is the student hindering you from maintaining order in your class?
  • How irritated do you feel by the student?
  • How severely should the student be disciplined?

The order of the two infractions (class disturbance/insubordination) varied randomly across participants to mitigate order effect. After reading and responding to both infractions, the teacher was asked to rate the likelihood they would say the student is a troublemaker. Finally, they asked how likely it was that the student was Black and what they suspected was the study’s hypothesis. (These final questions were used to identify any participants who may have been manipulating their responses based on their assumptions about the study’s hypothesis.) 

Study #2:

The first study was replicated with 204 more K-12 teachers (166 White, 17 Black, 10 Asian, 6 Latino, 2 other, 3 unknown) with an addition: After teachers rated the likelihood they would say the student was a troublemaker, they were also prompted to rate the extent to which they felt the student’s behaviors indicated a pattern and the likelihood they would imagine suspending the student at some point.

What did the researchers find?

Study #1:

Although teachers’ ratings of infraction severity, hindrance, and irritation did not vary by race in reaction to the first infraction, there was a statistically significant difference by race for the second infraction, with teachers rating students with stereotypically Black names more harshly than students with stereotypically White names. Similarly, teachers felt the students with stereotypically Black names should be disciplined more severely after the second infraction than students with stereotypically White names. “Thus, after only two strikes, racial disparities in discipline emerge” (p. 620). Furthermore, “the more likely teachers were to think the student was Black … the more likely they were to label the student a troublemaker” (p. 620).

Study #2:

Again, teachers’ ratings after the second infraction revealed perceptions that the misbehavior was more severe, more irritating, and more of a hindrance and warranted more severe discipline when the student had a stereotypically Black name. In addition, “the more likely the teachers were to think the student was Black, the more likely they were to label the student a troublemaker” (p. 621) and “the more likely they were to imagine themselves suspending that student in the future” (p. 622).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Though many studies and statistics show Black students are disciplined at higher rates and/or with greater severity, most only show a correlation. However, the findings of this study show a direct causal relationship between race and perceptions of misbehavior. According to Okonofua and Eberhardt, “what we have shown here is that racial disparities in discipline can occur even when Black and White students behave in the same manner. We have shown experimentally, for the first time, that teacher responses can contribute to racial disparities in discipline” (p. 622).

Since teaching is a helping profession, it can be assumed most teachers choose their career out of a desire to help others and make a difference. Like the teachers who participated in this study, though, none of us are immune to implicit bias. All educators must work to heighten awareness of their own implicit biases to help ensure all students are treated fairly and have equal opportunities for success.

Resources

This document has lots of helpful information and links to free resources: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PrAq4iBNb4nVIcTsLcNlW8zjaQXBLkWayL8EaPlh0bc/mobilebasic

If you want to become more race-conscious, here are some great books:

In memory of George Floyd and far too many others.