A cultural mismatch: Independent cultural norms produce greater increases in cortisol and more negative emotions among first-generation college students

Nicole M. Stephens*, Sarah S.M. Townsend, Hazel Rose Markus, L. Taylor Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations

Abstract

American universities increasingly admit first-generation students-students whose parents do not have four-year degrees. Once admitted, these students experience greater challenges adjusting to universities compared to continuing-generation students-students who have at least one parent with a four-year degree. This additional adversity is typically explained in terms of first-generation students' relative lack of economic (e.g., money) or academic (e.g., preparation) resources. We propose that this adversity also stems from a cultural mismatch between the mostly middle-class, independent norms institutionalized in American universities and the relatively interdependent norms that first-generation students are socialized with in working-class contexts before college. As predicted, an experiment revealed that framing the university culture in terms of independent norms (cultural mismatch) led first-generation students to show greater increases in cortisol and less positive/more negative emotions than continuing-generation students while giving a speech. However, reframing the university culture to include interdependent norms (cultural match) eliminated this gap.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1389-1393
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume48
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2012

Keywords

  • Cortisol
  • Culture
  • First-generation college students
  • Higher education
  • Inequality
  • Social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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