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Cultural Deprivation and Learning: An Examination of Method and Theory

Rosenhan, David L.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Disadvantaged, Learning Theories, Reinforcement, Research Problems


Much has been written in the last ten years about the negative effects of disadvantagement on school achievement. Although the experience of disadvantagement is associated with school problems, there are weaknesses in the theory, which states that one causes the other. There are problems with the research which has supported this, because the success of demonstration projects to remediate cultural disadvantagement is often due to the impact of heightened attention and publicity on the children's performance. Two experiments are briefly summarized which investigated social class differences in learning and student teacher interaction. The notion that middle class children have a positive strong response to being correct, and would learn faster after feedback about being correct than disadvantaged children, was shown to be invalid. In a second experiment, it was hypothesized that a disadvantaged child would be more alienated and uncomfortable in the unfamiliar school setting than a middle class child and would, therefore, be more responsive to positive reinforcement and more disorganized by disapproval. Results confirmed the transaction theory in this particular situation. Further work in this area was recommended to reveal specific methods that are feasible for improving the academic performance of disadvantaged students. Paper presented at meetings of American Educational Research Association, February 12, 1965.

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