Reducing stereotype threat by blurring intergroup boundaries

Three studies assessed whether blurring intergroup boundaries might attenuate stereotype threat. In Experiment 1, women undergraduates were either asked "to think of five things that men and women can have in common (i.e., characteristics that men and women share)" (category overlap), or did not complete this task (control) before completing the main dependent measure. The dependent variable involved individuals indicating their interest in pursuing eight different careers, four of which in pilot tests were strongly (mechanical engineer, military officer) or weakly (dentist, accountant) stereotypical for men, and four of which were strongly (registered nurse, primary school teacher) or weakly (physical therapist, social worker) stereotypical for women. Results showed that females in the control condition preferred stereotypically female careers compared with male careers. This difference was still significant, but also significantly weaker, in the overlap condition. In Experiment 2, women undergraduates were randomly assigned to complete either the category overlap task from Experiment 1 (category overlap), a category difference task in which they were to "think of five things that can distinguish men from women (category difference), or no task at all (control) prior to completing a series of math story problems. Math performance was better in the category overlap than in the control or category difference conditions, with performance not differing significantly in the latter two conditions. In Experiment 3, women undergraduates were assigned to one of four conditions. The first condition replicated the control conditions of Experiments 1 and 2; the second condition informed students that their results would be compared with men; the third condition involved a category overlap task followed by the threat manipulation; the fourth condition reversed the category overlap task and threat manipulation. Math performance did not differ in the control versus the second condition (in which results were to be compared with men), suggesting that the control condition had implicated stereotype threat in the previous studies. Performance was no better in the condition in which the threat manipulation preceded the category overlap task. However, performance was significantly better in the condition in which the category overlap task preceded the threat manipulation. Thus, it appears that identifying commonalities between groups might cause stereotype threat not to form in conditions where it otherwise might.

Rosenthal, H. E. S., & Crisp, R. J. (2006). Reducing stereotype threat by blurring intergroup boundaries. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 501-511.