Relating test-taking attitudes and skills and stereotype threat effects to the racial gap in cognitive ability test performance

This experiment explored the possible mediating roles of cognition, motivation, and emotionality in performance on a cognitive ability test collected under the guise of a job application exercise. Black and White college undergraduates participated in a study that was said to "to examine the extent to which perceived job desirability would influence job applicants selection test performance". A monetary award was promised for excellent performance. All participants also completed a demographic questionnaire indicating their gender, age, year in school, major, cumulative GPA, and ACT or SAT scores. Two methods were used to induce stereotype threat. Before filling out the demographic questionnaire, some students were were told that the personnel selection test was difficult and "will give the employer a genuine diagnostic evaluation of your Math, Verbal, and Logical reasoning abilities and limitations. Those same students were also asked to provide their racial identity on the demographic form (stereotype threat for Blacks). Students in the other condition were told only that they were to take a selection test, and indicated their race at the end of the study (control). All students then completed a test of cognitive ability with three subtests of logical, mathematical, and verbal reasoning. Manipulation checks focusing on anxiety experienced during the test indicated that Blacks were more anxious in the stereotype threat than the control condition, but Whites did not differ across the two conditions. Despite this evidence that Blacks experienced stereotype threat, no stereotype threat decrements in performance were obtained. Instead, Whites tended to perform better than Blacks in all conditions. However, Blacks in the stereotype threat condition performed better on the Math subtest to the degree that they were better at utilizing test-taking strategies than when there was no threat. In addition, Blacks under stereotype threat performed worse to the degree that they attended to distracting stimuli. The negative effects of distraction were weaker for Blacks in the control condition. Although this study did not replicate standard stereotype threat effects (perhaps because the pre-test demographic forms inadvertently highlighted race across the board, or because an incentive was provided for excellent performance (see McFarland, Lev-Arey, & Ziegert, 2003)), it does show that different strategies and differing levels of distractibility can occur under stereotype threat that affect performance.

Nguyen, H.-H. D., O'Neal, A., & Ryan, A. M. (2003). Relating test-taking attitudes and skills and stereotype threat effects to the racial gap in cognitive ability test performance. Human Performance, 16, 261-293.

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