I learned the following in Social Psychology (PSYCH 253) with Stephen Spencer as well as in Social Cognition (PSYCH 353) with Abigail Scholer and I have them both to thank for this knowledge.
The fear experienced by members of a stereotyped group that they will behave in a manner that confirms an existing cultural stereotype in a given domain.
Let me elaborate.
Steele & Aronson Study #1
They gathered European American and African American Stanford students and had them complete a challenging verbal test. In one condition, all participants were told that this test was diagnostic of ability. In the other condition, all participants were told that this test was not diagnostic of ability.
But when told the test was diagnostic of ability, African Americans seriously under performed.
1. Can you understand why this topic makes me crazy?
2. Why the #$&% does this happen?!
Steele & Aronson Study #2
Before taking the test that was said to be either diagnostic, non-diagnostic, or neither (the control condition) participants did a word completion task, which could have been filled in with words pertaining to race, but also could have been filled in with neutral words (for example: face, smack, Michigan).
In both the non-diagnostic and control conditions, significantly less racial word completions were made.
Proposed Causes of Underperformance
1. Physiological Stress
This can be distracting and can pull your mind away from the task.
2. More Performance Monitoring
You're thinking more about whether or not you're doing well when the stereotype has been activated.
3. Emotion Regulation
You're trying to calm yourself down and reduce your stress, which increases anxiety and also pulls mental resources away from the task.
These three things can all reduce a person's working memory.
- Performance Deficits
- Reduced Sense of Belonging
- Devaluing of Stereotyped Domains
These things can all lead to both educational and social inequalities.
Logel et al. 2009
In 2009, at the University of Waterloo, Logel et. al wanted to test whether or not interacting with a sexist male would affect women's performance on an engineering test.
First, male and female participants were put in a room and told to discuss an engineering article. All male participants were tested on their sexist attitudes using a subtle sentence completion measure.
Then, all participants took an engineering test. Male participants were rated on levels of sexism and these are the results of the women who interacted with them:
This has also been found to affect women in other male dominated domains, including math and science.
Reducing Stereotype Threat
But fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce stereotype threat - the aptly named ReducingStereotypeThreat.org is a fantastic website on the subject.
Here are some highlights on how to reduce stereotype threat, as an institution or an individual:
1. Emphasize that there are no gender or race differences in the performance on a test.
2. Prime yourself with people in your stereotyped group who have overcome these stereotypes.
Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Martin Luther King Jr., Roberta Bondar - whoever you find inspiring and intelligent.
3. Think about your values and the great things you have to offer.
In 2006, Cohen et. al had seventh grade participants complete a writing task. In one condition, students wrote about the importance of one of their personal values. In the other condition, students completed a neutral writing exercise.
After this exercise, Africian American students in the personal value condition vastly improved academically compared to historical norms. After just completing one exercise!
It's why ridiculous people have the idea in their heads that white people are just "inherently smarter" or that men are just "inherently smarter." This is a reality of our society, a reality that we have created, and a reality that I believe we can eliminate.
Please talk about this with someone you know! Even just sharing ReducingStereotypeThreat.org with a friend could work wonders.
Let's get this conversation going!
Join the discussion on r/psychology.