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Middle School Learning and Beliefs about a Just System: Research Report & Caveats Psychology with Erin Godfrey, PhD

  • 20 Sep 2018
  • 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
  • Zoom Webinar: The link to join will be sent to those that register


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Middle School Learning and Beliefs about a Just System: Research Report & Caveats

Erin Godfrey, PhD

In this program - another one focused on the impact of deep beliefs - Dr. Erin Godfrey will describe a research study investigating the impact of student beliefs about that the "fairness" of American society ("system justification") on student learning in middle school. The study is "For Better or Worse? System‐Justifying Beliefs in Sixth‐Grade Predict Trajectories of Self‐Esteem and Behavior Across Early Adolescence." This study of 257 students in one middle school found that sixth-grade students in the school studied who believed the "American System" was fair had higher self-esteem, less delinquent behavior and better classroom behavior, but these results declined as the students progressed through eighth grade. We will look at both the implications and a number of caveats about conclusions to be drawn from this research, including, "More research is needed."


Erin Godfrey is associate professor of Applied Psychology in the Psychology and Social Intervention program in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Development, and Education.

She uses theories and methods form social, developmental and community psychology to examine how individuals interact with, understand, and are influenced by the social, economic and political systems in which they are embedded.

  1. Erin’s first line of research involves perceptions and justifications of social and economic hierarchies and the psychological consequences of inequality. She examines system justification, critical consciousness, attributions for poverty and wealth, and subjective perceptions of social status among youth and their families.

    Questions guiding this work include: how do people come to justify or criticize social and economic hierarchies? Do they attribute poverty and wealth to individual or structural factors? Why? Where do they place themselves in these hierarchies? Erin examines how beliefs about social and economic hierarchies develop, whether they differ for people who are privileged vs. marginalized by the status quo and what consequences they have for academic outcomes, socioemotional well-being and civic engagement and social change.

  2. Erin’s second line of research explores the quality of social service provision meant to improve the lives of disadvantaged families and children. This work uses multilevel methods to rigorously examine characteristics of the social service provision settings (such as welfare offices, schools, juvenile detention centers, and community-based organizations) and their influence on the youth in those settings.

    Questions guiding this work include: How are social service settings best characterized and measured? What features contribute to a quality setting? Which setting features improve access to services provided and contribute to desired outcomes? She is particularly interested in how the behavior, attitudes, and attributions of service providers effect clients’ outcomes.

Erin’s work is primarily focused on the United States and low-and-middle-income countries (particularly South Africa) and has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the American Psychological Foundation (APF).

Erin received her BA in Psychology and Policy from Oberlin College and her PhD in Community, and Developmental Psychology from New York University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She was formerly a research associate at The Urban Institute in Washington, DC.

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