Thinking You're Different Matters More for Belonging than Being Different

Chadha, Sareena, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wood, Adrienne, AS-Psychology (PSYC), University of Virginia

In the present work, we ask whether belongingness is better predicted by acting and thinking like peers or believing you act and think like peers or friends. Across two studies, students (Total N = 2198) reported their belongingness and how much they and an “average student” followed local behavioral norms and held general values. We calculated difference scores for norms and values: first, between a student and their perception of an “average student” (perceived difference), and between a student and sample average (actual difference). While actual differences from the sample average in norms and values did not predict feeling different from others, perceived differences did; we additionally found that perceived differences matter most for belongingness. Further, perceived behavioral difference partially mediated the relationship between belongingness and multiple aspects of social identity, over and above actual distance. Using social network analysis, we find perceived behavioral difference from friends is meaningfully linked to network density, closeness, and racial homophily. Efficient interventions to increase institutional belonging can focus on revealing to students the ways in which they are, in fact, similar to their peers.

MA (Master of Arts)
belonging, social networks, social norms, social cognition, identity
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