Overcoming stereotype threat

Stereotype threat is the experience of anxiety when you could potentially confirm a negative stereotype about your social group e.g. women are inferior to men at maths, black people are less intelligent than white people. Steele (1997) found that negative stereotypes can negatively impact a person’s ability on specific tests (if they belong to the negatively stereotyped group) as they become worried about fulfilling the stereotype and this anxiety impinges their score. But how can this effect be overcome? There have been a variety of methods which have sought to negate this effect, and I will detail some of them here (successful intervention techniques underlined).

Ambady et al. (2004) either primed the participants gender before they answered a set of questions in the study (by flashing words that were linked to being female e.g. “aunt”, “girl”) or primed them with neutral stimuli. They were then asked to either individuate themselves by listing positive and negative aspects of themselves and provide examples of these personality traits manifesting themselves or answer comparably formatted questions about lions. They found that the gender primed individuated participants performed as well as the non gender primed participants and better than the gender primed non-individuated participants.

Schmiel et al. (2004) made students focus on their (self-rated) most important characteristics  e.g. being a musician, athlete etc. They were then exposed to the different conditions. In the intrinsic self-affirmation condition, the participants were asked to say why those aspects of their nature made them feel good regardless of socially imposed standards and performance contingencies e.g. “Being a         makes me feel           “. Participants in the extrinsic self-esteem condition were made to think about the contingent nature of their most-valued features (the worth of those traits being dependent on other people’s judgement) e.g. “When I am a successful         I receive        “. They found that female participants who affirmed the intrinsic worth of their characteristics performed better than extrinsic self-esteem condition females on a mathematical problem solving task.

Martens et al. (2006) found that female participants who affirmed a valued attribute (by describing how these characteristics were personally important and an instance when they had displayed this trait) performed better than female participants who had not (though the sample of this study was very small).

Good et al. (2008) presented final year calculus students (at a prestigious university) a standardised maths test which was preceded by a paragraph that either emphasised this tests’ ability to measure maths proficiency (stereotype threat condition) or one that highlighted that there were no gender differences in score for this test (non-threat condition). They found that female participants in the non-threat condition scored higher than stereotype threat females (they had higher accuracy and answered more questions) and males in both conditions. They found that removing the gender bias before starting a maths test reduced stereotype threat in female participants (though this analysis was only found for Anglo-American participants).

McGlone & Aronson (2006) administering a spatial reasoning test to male and female college students. Prior to this, the researchers presented the participants with one of 3 questionnaires: one that primed gender (by asking questions that made them think about their gender), another that primed the fact they were at a private school (by asking them questions to do with the fact they had earned admittance to a private school), and the third primed the fact they were residents of the Northeastern United States (control group). They found that the the female students who had been primed with the idea they had earned their place at a private school (their “achieved” identities were made salient) performed better than those whose gender had been primed (though this effect wasn’t very large).

Ambady, N.; Paik, S.K.; Steele, J.; Owen-Smith, A. & Mitchell, J.P. (2003). Deflecting negative self-relevant stereotype activation: The effects of individuation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 401-408.
Good, C.; Aronson, J. & Harder, J.A. (2008). Problems in the pipeline: Stereotype threat and women’s achievement in high-level maths courses. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29 (1), 17-29.
Martens, A.; Johns, M.; Greenberg, J. & Schimel, J. (2006). Combating stereotype threat: The effect of self-affirmation on women’s intellectual performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42 (2), 236-243.
McGlone, M.S. & Aronson, J. (2006). Stereotype threat, identity salience, and spatial reasoning. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27 (5), 486-493.
Schmiel, J.; Arndt, J.; Banko, K.M. & Cook, A. (2004). Not all self-affirmations were created equal: The cognitive and social benefits of affirming the intrinsic (versus extrinsic) self. Social Cognition, 22 (1), 75-99.
Steele, C.M. (1997). A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance. American Psychologist, 52 (6), 613-629. (function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){ (i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o), m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m) })(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’); ga(‘create’, ‘UA-63654510-1’, ‘auto’); ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);

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