For the past several years, Joel Wong, Department Chair and Professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology, has researched the psychology of encouragement. With a new study, he hopes to understand the power of encouragement for Black college students as a means of social support – and a tool to disrupt the negative effects of racism.
Wong defines encouragement as the affirmations people communicate to others, typically through the use of language, to enhance motivation within the context of realizing a potential or addressing a challenging situation. Although encouragement is commonly used in daily social life as a means of social support, Wong says why, how and when it works is poorly understood.
Through several past studies, Wong and his colleagues have examined the character strength of encouragement, the benefits of receiving encouragement within an academic context and an encouragement letter writing intervention for female doctoral students. Encouragement can also be used as a racial justice tool against racism, with evidence from that research showing that encouragement messages exert a more positive impact on African American students’ academic outcomes than on their White counterparts.