Task demands moderate stereotype threat effects on memory performance

This paper investigated stereotype threat effects on memory performance in older adults (aged 60-86; N = 82) using a task that controls for differences in free recall. Previous research on stereotype threat and memory tended to focus on what could be recalled, allowing identification of the impact of stereotype threat as information is stored in memory. Testing whether people can correctly recognize previously presented information allows examination of the influence of threat on what is stored in memory. Participants were tested individually on a memory task after being told either that younger adults typically do much better than older adults on this task and indicated their age (stereotype threat) or that older adults have been shown to do quite well on this task (control). The participants attempted to memorize 50 words which were presented in random order every 2 seconds. After a 10 minute delay, the 50 words were presented with a set of 50 new words that did not appear in the original set they had tried to memorize. Participants were asked to indicate whether they recognized each of the words. They were given either unlimited time or a limited amount of time (2.5 seconds for each word) to make this judgment for each word. Not surprisingly, memory performance was worse under a response deadline compared with an unlimited response window. More importantly, stereotype threat reduced memory performance only when response times were limited. Deficits in recognition memory under stereotype threat appeared to be tied to a decrease in specifically remembering have previously seen a word. Collectively, these findings show stereotype threat can negatively affect older adults memory performance by harming storage of specific memories under time pressure.

Hess, T. M., Emery, L., & Queen, T. L. (2009). Task demands moderate stereotype threat effects on memory performance. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 64B, 482-486.

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