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stereotype threat consequences vulnerable situations mechanisms reduce criticisms unresolved issues
Decreased performance

Internal Attributions for Failure

Reactance

 

Ironic effects

 

Self-handicapping

Task discounting

Distancing the self from the stereotyped group

Disengagement and disidentification

Altered professional identities and aspirations

Stereotype threat produces numerous consequences, most of which are negative in nature. Many studies have replicated and extended the finding first reported by Steele and Aronson (1995) that invoking group memberships associated with stereotypes can harm performance on tasks where poor performance might confirm stereotypes. Subsequent work has broadened to examine performance on many different tasks and a variety of consequences. Here we review the major consequences of stereotype threat that have been identified in research to date.

Decreased performance

Perhaps the most widely known consequence of stereotype threat is reduced achievement on tests in situations in which the stereotype is relevant. Most studies have focused on poorer performance on tests in academic environments, and such effects have been demonstrated in laboratory studies (Steele & Aronson, 1995) in real classrooms (Cole, Matheson, & Anisman, 2007; Good, Aronson, & Harder, 2008; Keller, 2007a; Neuville & Croizet, 2007), and on state-wide standardized tests (Good, Aronson, & Inzlicht, 2003). Stereotype threat also harms performance on tasks that have previously been suggested to be "culture free" and relatively "pure" measures of cognitive ability and reasoning (Brown & Day, 2006; Klein, Pohl, & Ndagijimana, 2007), suggesting that bias in standardized tests cannot account for these effects.

In addition to affecting test performance, stereotype threat has been shown to decrease performance on other kinds of tasks. Stereotype threat effects have been shown on tasks involving groups and domains as diverse as Whites and women in athletics (Stone, Lynch, Sjomerling, & Darley, 1999; Stone & McWhinnie, 2008, respectively), women in negotiation (Kray, Galinsky, & Thompson, 2002), gay men in childcare (Bosson, Haymovitz, & Pinel, 2004), the elderly in memory performance (Levy, 1996) and women in driving (Yeung & von Hippel, 2008). Stereotype threat, it appears, can harm performance on any task where a stereotype is invoked suggesting that members of some groups will perform more poorly than others.  

The reason that performance suffers under stereotype threat is still a matter of some debate. Research has shown that factors such as anxiety (e.g., Marx & Stapel, 2006), physiological arousal (e.g., Blascovich et al., 2001), and reduced cognitive capacity (e.g., Schmader & Johns, 2003) can all occur under stereotype threat, and each factor might contribute to lowered performance.

Internal Attributions for Failure

Individuals often attempt to identify what factors are responsible when they fail to achieve a desired outcome. In doing so, factors pertaining to the individual (i.e., internal factors) or factors related to the situation (i.e., external factors) can be invoked. Koch, Müller, and Sieverding (2008) showed that women under stereotype threat were more likely than men to attribute their failure on a computer task to internal characteristics. To the degree that failure in a domain is explained by internal rather than external factors, stereotypes are reinforced.    

Reactance

Stereotype threat can produce the opposite effects, actually increasing quality of performance, in some circumstances.  This can occur when stereotypes are strongly and explicitly instantiated and is especially likely when individuals are already high achieving and capable (Kray, Reb, Galinsky, & Thompson, 2004; Kray, Thompson & Galinsky, 2001). These findings and some others (Oswald & Harvey, 2000/2001) show that poorer performance under stereotype threat is not inevitable.

Ironic effects

Stereotype threat can cause behavioral consequences that are opposite to the intention of the individual. Frantz, Cuddy, Burnett, Ray, and Hart (2004) demonstrated that Whites performance on an implicit measure of racial associations was worse (indicating stronger race-based beliefs) when they were told that the test assessed racial bias (raising the specter of confirming White racism). However, allowing individuals to self-affirm as being non-racist before taking the test eliminated this effect. Goff, Steel, and Davies (2008) also showed that Whites who thought they were to discuss a racially-sensitive topic with other Black students choose to sit further away from their interaction partners. Both studies demonstrate that threat of confirming the stereotype of White racism tended to ironically increase behavior consistent with that stereotype.

Self-handicapping

Self-handicapping is a defensive strategy by which individuals erect barriers to performance to provide attributions for failure. If barriers indeed undermine performance, individuals can point to the barriers rather than deficiencies in ability or effort. If performance is successful despite the presence of barriers, estimates of performance can be augmented because the individual was able to overcome obstacles to performance. Research suggests that stereotype threat may lead individuals to in more self-handicapping behavior. For example, Stone (2002) showed that White students highly identified with sports who completed a task described as reflecting "natural athletic ability" practiced the task less than when under no threat and also when compared with individuals not identified with sports. Keller (2002) showed that girls who performed poorly on a math test under stereotype threat were more likely to invoke stress they had been experiencing before the taking test, and Steele and Aronson (1995) showed that African-American students under stereotype threat also tended to produce a priori excuses for possible failure (see also Schimel, Arndt, Banko, & Cook, 2004). Brown and Josephs (1999) also showed that providing a priori external excuses for failure eliminated stereotype threat effects.  These results show that individuals under stereotype threat might reduce preparation, exhibit less effort, or invoke factors to create attributional ambiguity for potential failure. To the degree that individuals engage in self-handicapping, however, actual performance can suffer.

Task discounting

One means for self-handicapping or for responding to poorer performance under stereotype threat is to question the validity of the task or even the importance of the trait being tested. One might view a task as biased or as being undiagnostic of one's abilities if one expects to struggle on the task or has in the past. Such effects are reported by Lesko and Corpus (2006) who showed that highly math-identified women operating under stereotype threat were more likely to agree with the statements such as "this test is not an accurate measurement of my math ability," and "I feel that I am better at math outside of this test."  Keller (2002) also showed that girls who performed poorly on a math test after being told of gender differences were more likely to agree that the test was "tricky" or "unfair." In another domain, Klein, Pohl, and Ndagijimana (2007) showed that Belgians with sub-Saharan origins were more likely to assert that an intelligence test commonly used in job selection was inappropriate given their nationality when they had been placed under stereotype threat and performed poorly. Although task discounting might help protect the self from the consequences of poor performance, it can also undermine motivation and lead a person to devalue the domain if used to excess.  

Distancing the self from the stereotyped group
 

Stereotype threat can also affect the degree that people enjoy and identify with activities associated with their social group. In Steele and Aronson (1995), African-Americans who experienced stereotype threat performed less well than their White counterparts and also expressed weaker preferences for stereotypically African-American activities such as jazz, hip-hop, and basketball. As Steele and Aronson reasoned, this identity distancing reflected a desire not to be seen through the lens of a racial stereotype.

Another way to distance oneself from the stereotyped group is to emphasize an unthreatened identity over a threatened one, a process termed "identity bifurcation." In one study, women under stereotype threat disavowed feminine characteristics that were strongly associated with the stereotype of women’s math potential but not feminine characteristics that were weakly associated with the stereotype (Pronin, Steele, & Ross, 2004). Moreover, only the women who were strongly identified with mathematics bifurcated their identity in response to stereotype threat. Distancing can also occur when one experiences collective threat, threat that arises when one observes another group member who might confirm a group stereotype. Collective threat can produce lowered self-esteem and greater distancing (both physically and psychologically) from ingroup members who might confirm a stereotype that applies to the self through shared group membership (Cohen & Garcia, 2005). 

These studies illustrate that to preserve their identity as a competent person in a domain, stereotyped individuals sometimes distance themselves from an aspect of their social identity that bears the burden of the negative stereotype.

Disengagement and disidentification

Another consequence is what Crocker and Major and their colleagues (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998; Major, Spencer, Schmader, Wolfe, & Crocker, 1998) call "disengagement." Disengagement occurs when stereotype threat leads individuals to distance themselves from a threatening domain or suggest that performance in a domain is unrelated to self-worth. When they do, self-views become disconnected from their performance in that domain. Mild forms of disengagement can occur when individuals expect to complete a task under stereotype threat. von Hippel et al. (2005), for example, showed that White students tend to claim that intelligence is relatively unimportant to them if they think they will take an IQ test after being reminded of the stereotype that Asians are intelligent. Smith, Sansone, and White (2007) also showed that stereotype threat can produce performance-avoidance goals in high achieving individuals, reducing interest in a task. Limited or context-specific disengagement can be healthy and protective. For example, Major et al. (1998) found that Black participants were less affected by the negative feedback they received after performing a difficult intelligence test after the possibility of racial bias was invoked, and Nussbaum and Steele (2007) showed that short-term disengagement allowed Black students under stereotype threat to maintain their motivation on a task. These findings suggest a that disengagement can represent an adaptive response that allows individuals to maintain positive self-views or to maintain motivation and persistence.

However, disengagement can produce "disidentification" if an individual copes with long-term threat by avoiding the domain or detaching one's identity from a domain (Steele, et al. 2002). If, for example, a female math student ceases to think of herself as "a math person" in response to a series of less-than-desirable performances on math tests, she has disengaged her social identity from mathematics. A person firmly disidentified from math might discount low math achievement, but a consequence of this discounting is that the person will likely have little desire to change this self-view. Therefore, disidentified individuals maintain self-esteem in the face of an immediate failure, but they also tend not to value their achievement in the domain or incorporate the domain in their identity. Long-term stereotype threat can produce disidentification as a coping strategy. Osborne (1997), for example, found that the correlation between academic performance and self-esteem was significant for both Black and White students in 8th grade, but African-American boys showed a weakening correlation over time so that by 12th grade, academic performance and self-esteem were unrelated. In addition, disidentification might also account for the extraordinary finding that among students of color, those who most identified with academics (and would be therefore, most susceptible to stereotype threat in academic domains) were most likely later to withdraw from school (Osborne & Walker, 2006). This finding is consistent with evidence that high-achieving Blacks who do not disidentify from academics are more likely to face peer-group ostracism compared with high-achieving White students (Fryer, 2006; Zirkel, 2004).

Altered professional identities and aspirations

Recent research has shown that stereotype threat can alter stereotyped students’ professional identities by redirecting their aspirations and career paths. Steele, James, and Barnett (2002), for example, showed that women undergraduates in male-dominated disciplines reported higher levels of sex discrimination and stereotype threat, and these women were also more likely to report that they were thinking of changing their major compared with women in fields that were not dominated by men.  Similarly, women math and science majors who viewed a discussion of math and science topics where males were numerically dominant showed lowered interest in participating in such a discussion in the future (Murphy, Steele, & Gross, 2007). Gupta and Bhawe (2007) also demonstrated that the degree that male characteristics were emphasized as important in a field reduced women's expressed interest in entering that field. Good, Dweck, and Rattan's (2008a) work suggests that an emphasis of stereotypical attributes in a classroom environment can affect the perceived sense of belonging in a field; to the degree that women perceived that their college calculus classes conveyed negative stereotypes about women’s math abilities, they reported feeling less like accepted members of the math community. Moreover, this threat to their identity as a future mathematician (or scientist) had real consequences for their achievement and career aspirations. When women’s sense of belonging was reduced by their perceptions of a stereotypical environment, they earned lower grades in the course and were less likely to express interest in taking more math classes in the future. 

Of course, stereotypes can be communicated in various ways, and Davies, Spencer, Quinn, & Gerhardstein (2002) showed that exposing women to television advertisements endorsing stereotypes of women decreased the interest they expressed in pursuing majors and careers involving quantitative skills and reduced interest in leadership roles (see also Davies, Spencer, & Steele, 2005; but see also Oswald & Harvey, 2000/2001). Thus, stereotypes can cause individuals enough discomfort to lead them to drop out of the domain and redefine their professional identities. When the domain is something as fundamental as mathematics, domain avoidance essentially precludes careers in science, engineering, and technology. Moreover, stereotypes can affect career choices early in schooling, as stereotype threat has been shown to undermine sense of belonging for girls in math as early as middle school (Good, Rattan, & Dweck, 2008b). This has important consequences for girls’ identities as future mathematicians and scientists, because it is precisely the middle school years when girls’ confidence in and liking of mathematics begins to wane.

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