As we are continuing working on our “sense of belonging” project at UiB (read more about my thoughts on students’ sense of belonging and what we can do about it here; and the general idea behind this project is to first get a baseline of student experiences, and then figure out how to make all students feel welcome and that they are in the right place), I’ve started reading up on “mattering”. Belonging makes the assumption that students want to belong in the first place, and that’s not necessarily the case. Mattering, on the other hand, is only about how students perceive others’ reactions to themselves.
One article that I’m thinking about a lot right now is Flett et al. (2022) on “anti-mattering”. Mattering — both feeling that one is both being valued by, and providing value to others — is an important psychological need. It is usually described and measured relating to its positive components: feeling that other people rely on us and think we are important, that other people are actively paying attention and would miss us if we were gone. When people report that they feel they matter, this usually correlates with better mental health and higher self-esteem etc.
But what about people that don’t feel like they matter? Feeling like one does not matter is not simply the opposite of feeling that one does. Even in people that have a lot of positive resources, feeling insignificant and “I’m not worth paying attention to” can become all-consuming and it is a very specific risk factor for self-harm and unwillingness or inability for self-care. The authors therefore introduce “anti-mattering”. In contrast to mattering, feeling of anti-mattering often becomes not just a perception of how the outside world reacts to oneself, it becomes internalised and affects self-worth. People who experience anti-mattering will detach themselves from others in order to avoid negative reactions and feelings, rather than try to experience the positive mattering.
When we think about what we want to investigate at UiB, maybe measuring “anti-mattering” in addition to all the belonging stuff might be a good idea. Flett et al. (2022) suggest that their scale might be modified to specific context — e.g. in our case anti-mattering at university. But as of now, we would not know what exactly that measures — state or trait? So it’s still early days. But what I find important is to consider that the way I’ve looked at belonging might be too narrow to actually be able to describe and eventually fix the problem I suspect is there.
Flett, G. L., Nepon, T., Goldberg, J. O., Rose, A. L., Atkey, S. K., & Zaki-Azat, J. (2022). The Anti-Mattering Scale: Development, psychometric properties and associations with well-being and distress measures in adolescents and emerging adults. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 40(1), 37-59.