Stereotype threat and inflexible perseverance in problem-solving

Researchers tested whether stereotype threat facilitates inflexible perseverance, defined as the utilization of strategies that were once successful but are no longer effective. In Study 1, undergraduates (N = 67) completed measures assessing levels of perseverance, stereotype suppression, performance expectancy, mood, and motivation prior to completing a problem-solving task. The problem-solving task was described either as being diagnostic of math ability (inducing stereotype threat for female participants) or as a puzzle (control). Participants in the diagnostic condition were asked to indicate their gender before the task whereas participants in the control condition were not. Both inflexible perseverance and stereotype suppression increased for women in the diagnostic condition compared with women in the control condition. Specifically, women under stereotype threat continued to use strategies that were previously successful but were more complex than was required even when there was an obvious and simpler solution. Study 2 (N = 63) served as a replication with a different problem-solving task. Stereotype threat again produced greater perseverance. These results show that stereotype threat can harm performance by inducing an inflexible cognitive style.

Carr, P. B., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Stereotype threat and inflexible perseverance in problem-solving. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 853-859.