The Positive Effects of Biculturation in African American College Students

by Luis Gomez, Kenyon ’17

In their article “‘Two Souls, Two Thoughts,’ Two Self-Schemas: Double Consciousness Can Have Positive Academic Consequences for African Americans,” Brannon, Markus, and Taylor explored the creation of the double consciousness in African Americans that W.E.B. Dubois coined and how it can positively effect African Americans’ academic success in the United States college system. They hypothesized that not only did African Americans have the gift of two-schemas that correspond with their double culture, but that if college and universities were to include a multicultural variant in the classroom setting, it would boost African American students’ performance and perseverance in school work. That is, if colleges were to include African American culture in their course curriculum (e.g., an English class including a Tony Morrison novel alongside The Great Gatsby) then it would improve African American students’ work.

In order to test this hypothesis, Brannon et al. had to first show the existence of this double consciousness and examine its origins and consequences. Their findings were very interesting. They found that mainstream American culture and African American culture existed symbiotically within African Americans. They are born into both cultures that promote opposite ideals from each other. Mainstream American culture tends to prioritize the individual over the collective, while African American culture prioritizes the collective. This bicultural bifurcation leads to African Americans forming two self-schemas, an independent self-schema and an interdependent self-schema, when confronted with their respective cultures. This interdependence is highlighted throughout African American history and parenting and gives them a unique advantage to understanding scenarios differently then their European American colleagues.

To test the effects of this double identity, Brannon et al. set up five different studies that examined how African Americans are able to switch between the two schemas and how priming either culture can lead to a dominance from the respective schema.

In the first study, African American students and European American students were primed with mainstream American or African American cultural icons and then introduced to a Prisoner’s Dilemma game where the decision to cooperate with their partner could lead to the best possible joint outcome, while not cooperating lead to the best individual outcome. The study showed that African Americans primed with African American cultural icons were more likely to cooperate with their partner than if they were primed with mainstream American cultural icons, whereas the European Americans did not show much of a difference in outcome between icons. Interestingly enough, African American students and European American students showed similar responses to the mainstream American icons which shows that both groups have identical independent schemas that come from the hegemonic society.

The second study also helped cement their hypothesis of the two schemas by proving that the schematic change in personality for the students happened by mediation from self-construals formed by each culture. They were asked to perform a self-evaluative test and then play another game of cooperation or individual gain and the results were the same as the first study.

The third study deviates from just proving that the two schemas exist by providing the context of the academic setting in which participants were asked to fill out an online survey as to which course materials they found more interesting, those that involve mainstream culture or African American culture. While the results did not show that great of a difference between groups as to which courses they would prefer, it did show that cultural priming engaged African American students and made them more persistent students; they associated their cultural priming with being fit to work on the tasks at hand.

Like the third study, the fourth and fifth study both examined how cultural priming effected creative problem solving in the classroom and engagement that leads to positive academic outcomes. They found that being primed with African American culture did indeed lead to a feeling of belonging and comfort in the classroom setting, which counteracts the racial stereotypes of African Americans not being good students, and lead them to have greater self-esteem in their work. This systematically engrained dual identity actually helps participants work more efficiently and effectively if they are able to engage with both self-schemas.

The explanation that Brannon et al. came up with was that, while European Americans were able to focus on their work because of their individualistic tendencies, the ability to feel support from the community allowed African American students to seek out other students to work with and supplement their learning. Rather than turning school into an institution of individual achievement, African American primed with multicultural experiences at school believed that they could do well in the academic setting and that self-esteem boost translated to better grades and an enhanced persistence in their schoolwork. The solution they saw towards increasing this productivity on a wider scale was to promote multicultural events on campus (e.g., Black History month) and to include both cultures in the course curriculum. With this, they help African Americans students engage with their independent and interdependent self-schemas and overcome the racial stereotypes that work to set them back socially.

References

Brannon, T., Markus, H., & Taylor, V. (2015). “Two Souls, Two Thoughts,” Two Self-Schemas: Double Consciousness Can Have Positive Academic Consequences for African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(4), 586-609.

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