Stereotype threat: The moderating role of locus of control beliefs
Individuals differ in the degree that they believe their experiences are caused by internal versus external causes. For individuals with a more Internal Locus of Control, their experiences and outcomes tend to be explained in terms of internal forces such as traits, ability, or effort. For individuals with a more External Locus of Control, events tend to be explained in terms of luck, fate, or others' actions. Although an Internal Locus of Control has generally been shown to predict higher effort and achievement, beliefs in internal causes might also make an individual more susceptible to stereotype threat. Two studies examined the relation between Locus of Control and stereotype threat. In Experiment 1, males and female high school students were told that high levels of either Logical Intelligence (stereotype threat for women) or Social Intelligence (stereotype threat for men) have been associated with higher levels of success in life, or they were given no information about variables that predict success (control). All students then completed a difficult test that was ambiguous regarding the importance of logical versus social skills. Consistent with previous stereotype threat studies, female participants obtained higher scores in the Social Intelligence condition compared with to the Logical Intelligence and control conditions, but men obtained lower scores in the Social Intelligence condition compared with the Logical Intelligence and control conditions. An analysis examining the moderating role of Locus of Control showed that these effects were present only for individuals with an Internal Locus of Control. In Experiment 2, female students took a math test after being told either that "there are clear differences in the scores obtained by men and women in logical-mathematical tasks" (stereotype threat), or that "there are no differences in the scores obtained by men and women in logical-mathematical tasks" (no threat). Only women with an Internal Locus of Control showed a lowered performance under stereotype threat. Thus, although Internal Locus of Control usually has beneficial consequences in academic settings, it does appear to increase susceptibility to stereotype threat.