A cultural mismatch: Independent cultural norms produce greater increases in cortisol and more negative emotions among first-generation college students
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.
Stephens, Nicole, Sarah S.M. Townsend and Hazel Rose Markus. 2012. A cultural mismatch: Independent cultural norms produce greater increases in cortisol and more negative emotions among first-generation college students. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 48(6): 1389-1393.