Targets as perceivers: How people determine when they will be negatively stereotyped

Five experiments examined the conditions under which targets of negative stereotypes can avoid the experience of stereotype threat. Experiment 1 involved an online test taken by African-American college students (N = 67). Half of the participants were told that their test performance would be indicative of their intellectual ability and their academic and professional success (diagnostic condition). The other half of the participants were told that the study was being conducted to develop an unbiased standardized analytical test (non-diagnostic condition). At the end of the online instructions, participants were presented with a picture and signature of the professor who supposedly would be evaluating their performance. The picture was of either of a middle-aged White or Black man. Participants with a Black evaluator performed as well as those with a White evaluator when the analytical test was described as nondiagnostic of intellectual ability. When the test was described as diagnostic of intellectual ability, however, participants with the White evaluator scored more poorly than those with the Black evaluator. Experiment 2 investigated whether test performance would be impacted if participants believed that a Black evaluator held negative stereotypes about Black people. Black college students (N = 45) were asked to complete a supposedly unbiased test being administered by a fellow Black student. One-third of participants heard nothing about the administrators beliefs and completed the test under the diagnostic condition instructions of Experiment 1. In two other conditions, the administration announced that I believe that there are [actual/no] group differences in ability. Therefore I am predicting that this unbiased test will [show/not show] group differences in test performance (stereotype affirming/stereotype negating conditions). Students in the stereotype affirming condition answered fewer questions correctly than those in the diagnostic control and stereotype negating conditions. Experiment 3 (N = 36) replicated Study 2 except with a White test administrator. In this experiment, students in both the stereotype affirming and diagnostic control performed more poorly on the test than students in the stereotype-negating condition. The fact that the control condition produced a reduction in performance might reflect differences in the presumed attitudes of a Black versus a White test administrator being unbiased vs. negatively biased, respectively. This possibility was examined in Experiment 4 with another sample of Black student participants (N = 26) who completed the test under no information (control) or stereotype negation instructions. Prior to taking the test, they were also asked whether they thought the test administrator believed in group differences in ability. Students both were more likely to believe that the administrator was unbiased and to perform better on the test when the stereotype had been negated by the administrator. Statistical tests suggested that beliefs about the administrator being unbiased was responsible for the increased performance in the stereotype negation condition. Study 5 tested similar processes involving negative stereotypes regarding women in STEM fields. A sample of male and female undergraduates (N = 99) completed an online math test that was supposedly unbiased regarding gender. They were told they would receive feedback from a White male professor on their performance. Participants were told either that the professor did not believe in gender differences in ability (stereotype negation) or no information was provided (control). In the control condition, men answered more questions correctly than women. In the stereotype negation condition. Men and women performed equally well in the stereotype negation condition, with women performing better in the stereotype negation compared with the control condition. Collectively, these results indicate that participants were adversely affected by stereotype threat when they considered it both possible and probable that they would be negatively stereotyped. When they assumed that they did not run the risk of being negatively judged (i.e., when other information suggested that they would not be viewed through the lens of stereotypes), students were unaffected by conditions that often give rise to stereotype threat.

Wout, D. A., Shih, M. J., Jackson, J. S., & Sellers, R. M. (2009). Targets as perceivers: How people determine when they will be negatively stereotyped. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 349-362.