June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
June 19, 2019
Educational Research and Methods
Optimal distinctiveness theory (ODT), a psychological theory about fundamental needs, postulates that people seek to balance personal uniqueness with interpersonal similarity. We sought to leverage ODT to increase the inclusiveness of our department, hypothesizing that marginalized students feel too much uniqueness and too little similarity with peers. ODT posits that people prefer groups that provide sufficient inclusiveness within the group and sufficient differentiation between the in-group and the out-group. We wondered if ODT could also be applied to individual identity, such that individuals seek out an identity that is neither too similar to nor too distinct from their peers. We conducted two studies in our R1 university department to test if high and low levels of uniqueness and similarity were indeed associated with negative feelings. We found that the average student was not necessarily averse to high or low levels of these two factors. In Study 1, students recalled many situations in which they felt similar and positive (solidarity), distinct and positive (pride), and negative and distinct (shame/stigma). They recalled few situations in which they felt similar and negative (non-uniqueness). In Study 2, students also recalled situations with these combined attributes, although a few situations also aligned with individual-level ODT predictions. Although preliminary, these results suggest that ODT has limitations when applied to individual identity.
Martin, C. C., & LeDoux, J. M., & Newstetter, W. C. (2019, June), Is Optimal Distinctiveness Theory Useful for Increasing Belonging in Educational Settings? Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. https://peer.asee.org/33029
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