Stereotype Threat - Effects On Performance

Effects On Performance

In the early 1990s, Claude Steele, in collaboration with Joshua Aronson, performed the first experiments demonstrating that stereotype threat can undermine intellectual performance. They had African-American and European-American college students take a difficult verbal portion of the Graduate Record Examination test. As would be expected based on national averages, the African-American students performed less well on the test. Steele and Aronson split students into three groups; stereotype-threat (in which the test was described as being "diagnostic of intellectual ability"), non-stereotype threat (in which the test was described as "a laboratory problem-solving task that was nondiagnostic of ability"), and a third condition (in which the test was again described as nondiagnostic of ability, but participants were asked to view the difficult test as a challenge). All three groups received the same test.

Adjusted for previous SAT scores, subjects in the non-diagnostic-challenge condition performed significantly better than those in the non-diagnostic-only condition, and the diagnostic conditions. In the first experiment, the race-by-condition interaction was not significant, meaning that African-Americans were not more significantly affected by being placed in a diagnostic condition than were European-Americans, contrary to the predictions of stereotype threat theory. The second study reported in the same paper did, however, find a significant effect.

Steele and Aronson concluded that changing the instructions on the test can reduce African-American students' concern about confirming a negative stereotype about their group. Supporting this conclusion, they found that African-American students who regarded the test as a measure of intelligence had more thoughts related to negative stereotypes of their group. Steele and Aronson measured this through a word completion task. They found that African-Americans who thought the test measured intelligence were more likely to complete word fragments using words that are associated with relevant negative stereotypes (e.g., completing __mb as "dumb" rather than "numb").

More than 300 published papers show the effects of stereotype threat on performance in a variety of domains. Whether stereotype threat occurs dependends on how the task is framed. If a task is framed to be neutral, stereotype threat is not likely to occur; however if tasks are framed in terms of active stereotypes, participants are likely to perform worse on the task. For example, a study on chess players revealed that women players performed more poorly than expected when they were told they would be playing against a male opponent. In contrast, women who were told that their opponent was female performed as would be predicted by past ratings of performance. Female participants who were made aware of the stereotype of females performing worse at chess than male participants, performed worse in their chess games.

The mere presence of other people can evoke stereotype threat. In one experiment, women who took a mathematics exam along with two other women got 70% of the answers right; while those doing the same exam in the presence of two men got an average score of 55%. Researchers Vishal Gupta, Daniel Turban, and Nachiket Bhawe extended stereotype threat research to entrepreneurship, a traditionally male-stereotyped profession. Their study revealed that stereotype threat can depress women's entrepreneurial intentions while boosting men's intentions. However, when entrepreneurship is presented as a gender-neutral profession, men and women express a similar level of interest in becoming entrepreneurs. Another experiment involved a golf game which was described as a test of "natural athletic ability" or of "sports intelligence". When it was described as a test of athletic ability, European-American students performed worse, but when the description mentioned intelligence, African-American students performed worse.

Overall, findings suggest that stereotype threat is likely to occur in any situation where an individual faces the potential of confirming a negative stereotype. For example, stereotype threat can negatively affect the performance of European Americans in athletic situations as well as men who are being tested on their social sensitivity. The experience of stereotype threat again depends on the framing of a task. An example of framing effects would be a study in which Asian-American women were subjected to a gender stereotype that expected them to be poorer at mathematics than males, and a racial stereotype that expects them to do particularly well. Subjects from this group performed better on a math test when their racial identity was made salient; and worse when their gender identity was made salient. This study illustrates how stereotypes can either positively or negatively influence participants performance, depending on the direction of the stereotype.

Although the framing of a task can produce stereotype threat in most individuals, certain individuals appear to be more likely to experience stereotype threat than others. Individuals who are highly identified with a particular group appear to be more vulnerable to experiencing stereotype threat than individuals who do not identify strongly with the stereotyped group.

The goal of the study Desert, Preaux, and Jund was to see if children from lower socioeconomic groups are affected by stereotype threat. The study that was conducted took children that were 6–7 years old and children that were 8–9 years old from multiple elementary schools, and presented them with Raven’s matrix test (which is an intellectual ability test and then answering a short questionnaire). Separate groups of children were given directions in an evaluative way and other groups were given directions in a non-evaluative way. The "evaluative" group received instructions that are usually given with the Raven matrices test and the "non-evaluative" group was given directions which made it seem as if the children were simply playing a game. The results showed that third graders performed better on the test than the first graders did, which was expected. However, the lower socioeconomic status children did worse on the test when they received directions in an evaluative way than the higher socioeconomic status children did when they received directions in an evaluative way. These results also reflected the hypothesis of the study, which suggested that the framing of the directions given to the children may have a greater effect on their performance than their socioeconomic status does. This was shown by the differences in performance based on which type of instructions they received. This information can be useful in classroom settings to help improve the performance of students of lower socioeconomic status.

There have been studies on senior citizens and the effects of stereotype threat based on aging. A study was done on 99 senior citizens ranging in age from 60–75 years. These seniors were given multiple tests on certain factors and categories that they find important such as memory and physical abilities. They were also asked to evaluate how physically fit they believe themselves to be. They were also asked to read articles which contained both positive and negative outlooks about seniors. In addition they watched someone reading the same articles. The goal of this study was to see if priming the participants before the tests would affect performance. The results showed that the control group performed better than those that were primed with either negative or positive words prior to the tests. The control group seemed to feel more confident in their abilities than the other two groups. However, these results could have been affected by the sample of seniors that were used. The participants were all well educated, healthy, and living at a place which was welcoming to seniors. This particular group of seniors may be the ones that could remain resistant to negative stereotype threats towards those who are aging.

Read more about this topic:  Stereotype Threat

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