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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The feedback withholding bias : How and when evaluators deny constructive criticism to minority students Croft, Alyssa


How can we learn from our mistakes if we’re unaware they exist? Past research has proposed that teachers’ preconceptions guide interactions with their students. Consequently, we believe negative stereotypes might lead evaluators to provide biased feedback to stigmatized students, particularly when they are giving this feedback directly to the students. The present research sought to distinguish whether non-stigmatized evaluators over-represent positive feedback or under-represent negative feedback on minority writing. We also explored the role of prejudice and motivations to control it, and a desire to protect stigmatized students as possible predictors of these biases. Across two studies, participants highlighted instances of good/bad writing in essays purportedly written by a White or a minority student (Study 1: Aboriginal; Study 2: Black). Results showed that although participants provided equivalent gestalt evaluations and positive feedback to both authors, they provided less negative feedback overall to a minority student author (Study 2). Furthermore, this feedback withholding bias was strongest among evaluators who were externally but not internally motivated to control their biases (Studies 1 & 2). Participants with these motivations also provided inflated global appraisals of minority student writing in an effort to maintain consistency after withholding negative feedback. These findings suggest that stigmatized students might sometimes fail to receive the criticism necessary to identify areas needing improvement, particularly when evaluators are concerned about appearing prejudiced. Implications for minority student motivation, learning and performance will be discussed. Potential future directions are suggested for reducing the feedback withholding bias via practical interventions.

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