Southern discomfort: The effects of stereotype threat on the intellectual performance of US southerners

Four studies examined stereotype threat as experienced by Americans from the south involving students at the University of Alabama. In Study 1, undergraduates (N = 47) answered GRE-type items either after being told that the test was diagnostic of their ability and that individuals from northern states tend to perform better than individuals from southern states (stereotype threat) or was being used to assess psychological factors associated with problem-solving (control). Participants in the stereotype threat condition performed significantly worse on the test than participants in the control condition. Study 2 unconfounded diagnosticity from stereotyping variables. Participants (N = 114) were told that the test was diagnostic of ability (diagnostic) or related to problem solving (non-diagnostic) and that regional differences in performance have been shown on this test (e.g., people from northern and southern states perform differently) (stereotype activation) or were given no information concerning regional differences in performance (control). Test performance was worse when the stereotype was mentioned than when it was not, and the diagnosticity manipulation did not affect performance. Participants in Study 3 (N = 75) were either exposed to a binder supposedly left by a previous participant that either had the Confederate flag on the cover (stereotype threat) or no flag on it (control). Participants performed worse on the test in the stereotype threat compared with the control condition. Study 4 manipulated stereotype threat by having Alabama undergraduates (N = 78) either answer a set of questions designed to activate the Southern stereotype (e.g, questions about their birthplace and where they had lived a majority of their lives) and identity strength as a Southerner (stereotype threat) or no personal questions (control). Test performance was lower in the stereotype threat condition than in the control condition, and higher levels of identification as a Southerner were predictive of lower levels of overall test performance. These results show that stereotype threat can arise from stereotypes linking academic performance with regional identities.

Clark, J.K., Eno, C.A., & Guadagno, R.E. (2011). Southern discomfort: The effects of stereotype threat on the intellectual performance of US southerners. Self and Identity, 10, 248-262.