Effects of role model deservingness on overcoming performance deficits induced by stereotype threat

This paper reports two experiments investigating whether the perceived deservingness of role models success affects their effectiveness in reducing stereotype threat. Experiment 1 was conducted with women (N = 120), the majority of whom who were placed under stereotype threat by being told that they would complete a math test on which some people believe that men score better than women. Prior to this test, participants completed a supposedly unrelated task in which they were exposed them to a role model who was high or low in deservingness of her success. In both cases, a woman was described who held several patents involving environmentally friendly home heating. In one condition, the womans deceased spouse was the actual inventor who when he was dying urged her to file patents for his inventions under her own name, a request she reluctantly honored (undeserving role model condition). In a second condition, the patents reflected her own ideas and work (deserving role model condition). There were two control conditions, one in which no role model was provided (stereotype threat only control) and a condition in which there was no role model and no stereotype threat manipulation (test only control). All participants then completed the mathematics test. Results showed that women in the deserving role model and test only control conditions performed better on the math examination than those in the other two condition. These findings both show the effects of stereotype threat (lower performance in the stereotype threat control and undeserving role model conditions) and attenuation of stereotype threat when participants were exposed to a deserving role model. Experiment 2 was similar to Experiment 1 except that a role models success was attributed to internal versus external and to stable versus unstable causes. For example, the success of one role model was described as reflecting innate talent and a consistent track record (internal/stable attribution) or suggested talent that was sporadically displayed (internal/unstable attribution). The external role models success was due to winning the lottery but that she that had since either shown a consistent track record (external/stable attribution) or been inconsistent in her performance (external/unstable attribution). The same two control groups from Experiment 1 were again used. After these manipulations, undergraduate women (N = 188) then completed the math test and completed a self-report measure of extra-test thinking. Findings showed that math performance was highest in the test only condition (where there was no stereotype threat) and in the condition in which there was stereotype threat but also a role model whose success was attributed to internal/stable factors. Performance was worst in the stereotype threat only control condition and somewhat higher in the internal/unstable, external/stable, and external/unstable attribution conditions. Mediation analysis indicated that extra-test thoughts partially mediated the relation between models and performance. In sum, the results show that role models who are seen as deserving of their success are most effective in reducing stereotype threat.

McIntyre, R.B., Paulson, R.M. Taylor, C.A., Morin, A.L., & Lord, C. (2011). Effects of role model deservingness on overcoming performance deficits induced by stereotype threat. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 301-311.