Title

On the Road: Combining Possible Identities and Metaphor to Motivate Disadvantaged Middle-School Students

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2017

Department

Psychology

Abstract

In America, White and affluent middle-school students outperform minority students and those of low socioeconomic status on measures of academic performance. This achievement gap is partly attributable to differences in academic engagement. A promising strategy for engaging students is to elicit an academic possible identity: an image of oneself in the future as an accomplished student. Tests of this strategy's efficacy show mixed results, however. According to Identity-Based Motivation Theory, this is because a salient possible identity enhances goal engagement when it is perceived to be strongly (vs. weakly) connected to one's current identity. Still, the connection between temporally remote identities is an abstract concept that students may have difficulty grasping. According to Conceptual Metaphor Theory, this connection may be easier to conceptualize metaphorically in terms of a dissimilar concrete experience - in particular, a physical journey between locations. Integrating these theories, prior studies show that priming a journey-metaphoric framing of an academic possible identity increased academic engagement among college students. The current study tested whether this prime would similarly motivate middle-school students in an economically disadvantaged school setting. Results show that students (Age(median)=13) framing their academic possible identity as a destination on a physical path (n=30), versus without a provided metaphor (n=30), reported higher academic engagement. This finding extends metaphor priming effects to low-income and minority adolescents, a crucial population in educational research, and points to low-cost, theoretically grounded interventions for boosting academic engagement.

Publication Title

Metaphor and Symbol

Volume

32

Issue

4

First Page

276

Last Page

290

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