Coping with stereotype threat: Denial as an impression management strategy

This set of experiments addressed the impact of impression management motivation on coping with stereotype threat. It was hypothesized that individuals who are high in impression management (i.e., those individuals who chronically deny negative, but claim positive, self-attributes in a given context) would be most likely to deny stereotype threat either by denying that a stereotype is accurate (a collective strategy) or by denying that it is self-relevant (an individualistic strategy). In Experiment 1, male and female temporary workers (for whom there exists a negative stereotype), were exposed to a description of their group that stated in part either "I find temporary employees under-skilled. Many dont have the necessary training to perform effectively and productively in their jobs, so we often have to train them" (stereotype threat), or "Temporary employees are quick to adjust to a new situation. They come in knowing they have a job to do and a short time to do it, so they have to be adaptable and fast learners. Most of them are very good at this" (control). They then completed questionnaires containing a measure of self-doubted competency and and impression management scale. Impression management was correlated with denial of competency in the stereotype threat condition, but responses to these measures were unrelated in the control condition. In Experiment 2, older adults (ages 64-95, average age = 81) who were recruited based on their active involvement in the community, or from hostels for the elderly, completed measures of memory ability, self-reported memory failures, and impression management. Elderly hostel residents showed worse memory and a stronger relationship between impression management and denial of cognitive failures than did than did those living in the community. In Experiment 3, African-American and White undergraduates were asked by a White or Black experimenter about their intelligence and athletic ability, then completed an impression management measure. Impression management correlated with self-reported intelligence for African-Americans but not for Whites. These effects were strongest when the experimenter was White and when the African-American had attended a predominantly Black high school, suggesting that the increase in denial by individuals high in impression management is audience specific and sensitive to familiarity with the audience. Experiment 4 extended this analysis into a context where individuals under stereotype threat actually had to perform in the domain in question. White students were instructed that they would perform an IQ test and were told either, "You probably will not be surprised to hear that Asians tend to perform better than Whites on tests of intelligence. For this reason, we need you to indicate your ethnicity so that we can score peoples performance separately by different racial groups" (stereotype threat), or that "the particular test used in this research was chosen because it was culturally fair" (control). Before taking the test, students indicated their intelligence and its importance, and completed a measure of impression management. Performance was marginally worse in the stereotype threat condition, but impression management was negatively related to the estimated importance of intelligence in the stereotype threat but not in the control condition. It appears that students high in impression management who actually had to perform the test did not indicate that they were intelligent and risk being embarrassed by poor performance. Instead, they distanced themselves from the domain by suggesting that their performance on a task under stereotype threat is unimportant. These studies indicated that when threatened by a stereotype, individuals who are concerned with impression management cope either by denying incompetence in the threatened domain or by denying the importance of the domain itself.

von Hippel, W., von Hippel, C., Conway, L., Preacher, K. J., Schooler, J. W., & Radvansky, G. A. (2005). Coping with stereotype threat: Denial as an impression management strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 22-35.

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