On the causal mechanisms of stereotype threat: Can skills that dont rely heavily on working memory still be threatened? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 10591071
These studies focused on the effects of stereotype threat on the performance of highly proceduralized activities. Unlike many tasks that rely on availability of attention and working memory capacity, performance on highly proceduralized skills can be harmed by increased attention and cognitive involvement. Experiment 1 involved expert golfers who performed a putting test after being told either that "women actually tend to perform better than men on our putting task" (stereotype threat) or that "this research was investigating individual differences in golf putting performance" (control). Men in the control condition improved their performance between practice and test, whereas test performance in the stereotype threat condition was worse than in the control condition. Experiment 2 used the same procedure, but added a concurrent secondary task for half the men that required them to listen to a recording and to repeat certain words when they appeared. Golfers under stereotype threat actually performed better than in the control condition, suggesting that the concurrent task drew attention away from the proceduralized task. In Experiment 3, white male golfers performed the putting task after being told that "natural athletic ability is the best predictor of performance success...certain minority groups may be especially predisposed to excel in golf" (stereotype threat) or under control instructions and then performed a concurrent task involving monitoring words related to racial stereotypes. Even though the concurrent task might have reinforced stereotype threat, performance was improved in that condition. These results indicate that increased attention and allocation of working memory capacity can actually harm performance on proceduralized tasks. Thus stereotype threat can either harm performance by undermining working performance capacity or by causing working memory capacity to be allocated to processes that are harmed by increased attention or focus.