Am I an athlete or a student? Identity salience and stereotype threat in student-athletes
Two experiments examined the effects of dual social identities and task framing on stereotype threat. In Experiment 1, college student-athletes described either their latest academic success (student identity condition), their latest athletic competition (athlete identity condition), or provided directions from their dorm to the campus library (control), then completed measures of self-regard and a difficult math test. Students performed more poorly on the test when their identity as athletes had been highlighted compared with the other two conditions. However, academic self-esteem was lower in the athlete and control conditions compared with the student identity condition. Lowered academic self-regard appeared to account for the lowered performance of the students whose athletic identity was highlighted. These findings show that highlighting one of several potential identities can influence task performance. They also suggest that in the absence of a highlighting of any one identity, the nature of the task itself can affect identity salience. Specifically, student-athletes in the control condition responded similarly on measures of academic self-regard as individuals led to think of their athletic identity, but they performed as well on the math test as individuals who were prompted to think of their student identity. Experiment 2 was designed to provide more direct evidence of heightened social identity in response to the task. Student-athletes completed either the self-regard measure or the math test from Experiment 1, then finished word fragments that allowed identification of the accessibility of their student vs. athlete identities. Individuals who completed the academic self-regard measure completed word fragments in a manner suggesting their athletic identity had been highlighted, whereas individuals who completed the math test showed evidence that their identity as students had been highlighted. These results show that for individuals with strong multiple identities, both the context and the task itself can influence identity salience and subsequent performance.