Proof (post-print) of article published in Social Psychology in Education (2012) 15:465–481

DOI 10.1007/s11218-012-9193-3


We conducted an investigation into a determinant of academic motivation that has implications for how we respond to school violence and tragedy. We conducted two studies to examine whether exposure to messages related to the salience of one’s own mortality cause people to align their own academic beliefs more closely with stereotypical beliefs about their social groups. When exposed to graffiti images that contained messages such as R.I.P. (i.e., rest in peace), males and females in Study 1 expressed math attitudes that resembled the American stereotype of male superiority and female inferiority in this domain. In Study 2, writing about death caused participants to express ethnic stereotype-consistent math attitudes. As one example, our studies highlight a potential psychological barrier associated with student advancement in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). These findings indicate that death reminders, even when they do not follow from direct exposure to school trauma, may impact the academic motivation of stereotypically disadvantaged groups. With the larger goal of reducing psychological barriers associated with inequality in the pursuit of STEM career pathways, these studies are intended to spur further examination of how cases of extreme violence in schools potentially can affect patterns of academic motivation. Even in its early stages, this research should provide new considerations for educational policy-makers aiming to design damage control protocols in response to extreme school violence.


Psychology | Social Psychology