Losing Self-control: The Impact of the Gender, Racial, or Ethnic Makeup of a Classroom
Michael Inzlicht

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



New York University

Primary Discipline

Individuals belonging to socially disadvantaged groups now occupy positions in schools, employment settings, and legislative bodies that were once reserved for White males. Yet education research continues to paint a portrait of under-representation for these individuals. Women, for example, currently comprise only 38% of faculty in American universities, and less than 10% of physics and engineering graduate students. Similarly, only 12% of all students enrolled in undergraduate programs at US colleges and universities are Black. This under-representation reflects a number of barriers for these groups. For the past few years, however, my research has shown that this under-representation can also contribute to the problems these groups face. For example, my research has shown that being outnumbered in a group can impair the optimal intellectual performance of stigmatized groups and create what I call a threatening environment. Finding ways educators can effectively buffer people from threatening intellectual environments is the ultimate aim of the proposed research. To fulfill this aim, I will pursue two overarching goals. One is to better understand the causes and consequences of threatening environments—what factors influence their effects, and what educational outcomes do they influence? The second goal is to test theoretically derived methods that may reduce the impact of threatening environments.Although my research shows that group-composition can undermine performance, we still don’t know what underlies these deficits. One possibility is that minority environments drain self-control strength, which can be defined as the mental effort individuals use to regulate or alter their behavior. Research is now beginning to reveal that people have only a limited supply of self-control strength, and that any task requiring controlled, willful action quickly depletes this central resource. In this proposal I examine whether minority environments can limit the amount of self-control that stigmatized individuals can exert and so impair their cognitive functioning. I examine how the gender composition of (a) university classrooms and (b) ad-hoc laboratory groups, can impact the self-control and intellectual performance of female math students. In addition, I will conduct a theoretically derived intervention that teaches students how to improve their self-control and so overcome the barriers present in their everyday minority environments. Discovering that minority environments hamper self-control—and educational outcomes as a consequence—has profound implication for both theory and application. It would reveal the underlying causes of threatening intellectual environments and so help us develop interventions that address these issues.
About Michael Inzlicht

Pin It on Pinterest