Can a Visual Values Affirmation Intervention Improve Test Scores of Students in Areas Affected by Crisis?

Values-affirmation (VA) exercises, which direct people’s attention to aspects of their lives that they value and broaden their sense of self, have been shown to improve performance in many populations, particularly those who worry that doing poorly will feed into negative stereotypes of the ethnic or other social groups they belong to.

Most studies of VA have examined its benefits in highly literate, economically stable, English-speaking populations and have used written exercises. Authors of this report conducted a randomized controlled trial of a visual VA exercise in an understudied population: marginalized Arabic-speaking students (mostly Syrians) living in a context (Lebanon) affected by conflict.

Before taking final exams for a program to improve basic Arabic and English literacy skills and math proficiency, the participants, ages 14–24 years, made a drawing that represented a value important to them. This visual VA exercise improved performance on the Arabic test, particularly among the Syrians, suggesting that, at least for the Arabic test, it reduced anxiety related to stereotyping, allowing students to relax enough to demonstrate their true ability. If replicated, our findings would suggest that schools could use such exercises to improve the value of test scores for guiding decisions about next steps in the education of marginalized students in a context affected by conflict.