Stigma as ego depletion: How being the target of prejudice affects self-control

This paper assessed whether being associated with stigma might reduce one's ability to control attention and behavior. If self-control is a limited resource, then coping with anxious feelings and activated stereotypes, and avoiding stereotype-confirmation under stereotype threat might reduce the resources available to effectively regulate behavior in other unrelated contexts. Three experiments were conducted to test these hypotheses. In Experiment 1, African-American undergraduates completed measures designed to assess their anxious expectations of being victims of prejudice and their estimates of successful regulation of academic-relevant behavior. Responses to these measures were negatively correlated; individuals who expected to be victims of prejudice reported lowered ability to regulate behavior related to academic success. Experiment 2 involved Black and White undergraduates who completed a task requiring high levels of self-regulation (the Stroop task) after being led to expect that they would later complete a difficult verbal exam described as being either diagnostic (stereotype threat for Blacks) or nondiagnostic (no stereotype threat) of intellectual ability. Stroop performance was poor for Blacks under stereotype threat compared with Blacks under no stereotype threat, and Whites overall. Experiment 3 involved women who were led to believe they would complete a math or verbal test that was either diagnostic of ability (stereotype threat for math) or showed no gender differences (no stereotype threat). Before beginning the test, the women were asked to hold a handgrip as long as they could, a task requiring self-regulation of physical resources. Women held the handgrip for a shorter period when they believed they were to take a diagnostic math test compared with the other three conditions. These studies show that stereotype threat can reduce the ability to regulate both attentional and physical behavior.

Inzlicht, M., McKay, L., & Aronson, J. (2006). Stigma as ego depletion: How being the target of prejudice affects self-control. Psychological Science, 17, 262-269.