“Deep-level” similarity: New randomized study eplores whether having a similar disability matters for mentoring match outcomes?

Heppe, E. C. M., Kupersmidt, J. B., Kef, S., & Schuengel, C. (2019). Does having a similar disability matter for match outcomes?: A randomized study of matching mentors and mentees by visual impairment. Journal of Community Psychology, 47(2), 210–226. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcop.22116

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Developing meaningful relationships and other forms of social participation can be difficult for youths with visual impairment (VI).
  • Interventions, like mentoring, can help address this issue by matching people with VI with mentors who have similar experiences or interests.
  • This study assesses how effective it’ll be to match mentees with VI with sighted mentors or with mentors with VI.
  • Results showed that sighted mentors were younger and were more likely to be educated and/or work in helping professions.
  • Sighted mentors were less likely to have highly optimistic expectations and have a fixed mindset.
  • Mentors with VI had notably shorter meetings with their mentees, had poorer quality mentoring relationships, and had a higher chance of ending their relationships prematurely.
  • Findings indicate that matching mentors by disability/ability didn’t have a significant impact on mentoring match outcomes.
  • Because this study focused on match outcomes, future mentoring research needs to examine mentoring youths with disabilities more comprehensively.
  • Enhanced pre-match mentor training might be helpful for mentors with VI who are paired with mentees with VI.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Mentoring is modestly effective for youth with a chronic illness or physical disability; however, program effectiveness may be enhanced when mentors and mentees are matched on shared interests and experiences. To test this hypothesis, mentees were randomly assigned to having a mentor with or without visual impairment (VI). Results showed that mentors without VI were younger and more likely to work or be educated in a helping profession and less likely to have a fixed mindset and extremely high positive expectations than mentors with VI. The main analyses on match outcomes showed that mentors with VI had significantly fewer and shorter match meetings, had a weaker relationship with their mentees, and were more likely to end their match prematurely. Mentor age, helping profession background, and fixed mindset were confounds in several analyses and reduced the significance of the relationship between VI group and match meeting quantity. The only relationship that remained significant controlling for covariates showed that matches including a mentor with VI were significantly more likely to end in premature closure than matches including a mentor without VI. Implications of the findings for future research and program practices related to matching were discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study was designed to test the effect of a key program practice, matching based upon similarity, on match outcomes using a rigorous experimental design. Previous research had suggested that matching based upon similarity was one of the main causes of match success; however, to the best of our knowledge, this hypothesis has not been experimentally tested with respect to similarity based upon disability status. Thus, this was the first study to randomly assign mentees to mentors with a similar disability or mentors without a similar disability. Although match similarity has been repeatedly found to be associated with both positive mentee and match outcomes (DuBois et al., 2011; Eby et al., 2013), the results from this study did not provide support for the hypothesized relationship between match similarity with respect to visual impairment (VI) and match outcomes. In fact, to some extent, the opposite pattern was found. Similarity with respect to VI did not enhance match outcome results and it significantly diminished some of the match outcomes. Mentees with VI who were randomly assigned to mentors who also had VI had matches that were more likely to end prematurely than matches including mentors who did not have VI.

Despite the lack of empirical support for the advantages of disability similarity, it is notable that almost two thirds of the mentors in this study believed that disability similarity would significantly and positively contribute to match and youth outcomes. Although the present study examined only match outcomes, the quantitative data suggested that disability similarity may be less important than commonly thought and did not confirm the hypotheses regarding the benefits of matching on the basis of disability similarity. Consistent with these findings on the lack of a positive effect of disability similarity on outcomes, a recent study examined youth outcomes for mentees with a disability and reported no differences between youth matched with a mentor having similar disability challenges and youth matched with a mentor who had no disability (Sowers et al., 2016). Taken together, these studies suggest that other factors or other similarity characteristics besides shared disability status may be more important for producing positive match and youth outcomes.

The large percentage of matches that closed prematurely was surprising given the fact that significant efforts were made to ensure that the mentors in this study, both those with and without VI, would be effective, prepared, safe, and suitable for serving as mentors to youth with VI. Volunteers were extensively interviewed, screened, and trained before being accepted into the study and matched with a mentee. Consistent with the Screening Standard in the EEPM (Garringer et al., 2015) and previous research on “deep-level” similarity (Eby et al., 2013), matching within randomized conditions was predicated on shared vocational or leisure interests. All matches also received extensive, ongoing match support that was conducted at a minimum frequency of once a month, consistent with the Monitoring and Support Standard in the EEPM (Garringer et al., 2015). Suggestions to mentors and mentees during match support conversations were the result of consensual team discussions that included input from both practitioners and research experts. Unfortunately, these enhanced program practices (i.e., prematch training, matching on interest similarity, ongoing relationship support, and scaffolding) did not mitigate against the deficiencies found in matches involving mentees with VI.

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