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Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans

This paper raised the possibility that culturally-shared stereotypes suggesting poor performance of certain groups can, when made salient in a context involving the stereotype, disrupt performance of an individual who identifies with that group. This effect was termed stereotype threat, and the existence and consequences of stereotype threat were investigated in four experiments. Experiment 1 involved Black and White college students who took a difficult test using items from the GRE Verbal exam under one of two conditions. In the stereotype threat condition, students were told that their performance on the test would be a good indicator of their underlying intellectual abilities. In the control condition, students were told that the test was simply a problem solving exercise and was not diagnostic of ability. Performance was compared in the two conditions after statistically controlling for self-reported SAT scores. Black participants performed less well than their White counterparts in the stereotype threat condition, but in the non-threat condition their performance equaled that of their White counterparts. Experiment 2 provided a replication of this effect, and also showed that Blacks both completed fewer test items and had less success in correctly answering items under stereotype threat. In Experiment 3, Black and White undergraduates completed a task that was described either as assessing or not assessing intellectual ability. When the task supposedly measured ability, Black participants performed more poorly. In addition, they showed heightened awareness of their racial identity (by completing word fragments related to their ethnicity), more doubts about their ability (by completing word fragments related to low ability), a greater likelihood to invoke a priori excuses for poor performance (i.e., self-handicapping), a tendency to avoid racial-stereotypic preferences, and a lower likelihood of reporting their race compared with students in the low-threat condition. Experiment 4 sought to identify the conditions sufficient to activate stereotype threat by having undergraduates complete the non-threat conditions from Experiments 1 & 2. Unlike those experiments, however, racial and ethnic information was solicited from only half of the students, right before they completed the test items. Results showed that performance was poorer only among Blacks whose racial identity was made salient prior to testing. These studies established the existence of stereotype threat and provided evidence that stereotypes suggesting poor performance, when made salient in a context involving the stereotypical ability, can disrupt performance, produce doubt about one's abilities, and cause an individual to disidentify with one's ethnic group.

Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.
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