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Microaggressive classroom language and diminished cognitive functioning

Brea M. Banks (Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, USA)
Kara Cicciarelli (Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, USA)

Journal for Multicultural Education

ISSN: 2053-535X

Article publication date: 29 August 2019

Issue publication date: 20 August 2019




The current literature has not provided insight into the effects of using racially derogatory words in the context of academic instruction or when reviewing historical texts. This study aims to examine the impact of such microaggressive language on cognitive performance among university students.


Using experimental methodologies, the participants were recruited to the research lab and assigned to one of the three conditions, as they were exposed to a derogatory word, heard a replacement of the word or did not hear it at all. Given the results of prior studies, researchers hypothesized that participants holding marginalized racial/ethnic identities would experience greater levels of cognitive depletion, as measured by the Stroop (1935) color-naming task, when compared to their white counterparts, as it was expected that students from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds would be more affected by use of such language.


The primary hypothesis was supported, as students from underrepresented backgrounds who were exposed to the microaggressive language displayed diminished Stroop (1935) performance as compared to those not exposed and their white counterparts who heard the same language.


This study adds to the literature surrounding the immediate impact of microaggression of university students holding marginalized racial/ethnic identities.



Banks, B.M. and Cicciarelli, K. (2019), "Microaggressive classroom language and diminished cognitive functioning", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 276-287.



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