The Obama Effect: An Experimental Test

In this experiment, high achieving White and Black undergraduates were asked to think about a prominent politician from the 2008 presidential campaign before completing a difficult verbal exam that had been described as diagnostic of their ability. Immediately prior to taking the exam, participants were given several pictures of John McCain, Barack Obama, or no photographs (control) along with identical quotes attributed to each individual or to "an American politician" (control). Participants in these conditions were then asked to list two benefits of a McCain presidency, two benefits of an Obama presidency, or, in the control condition, the benefits of being politically informed. A second control condition involved participants completing the exam without being provided any of this information. Results showed that Whites performed significantly better than Black students across all conditions. The authors suggest that failing to focus attention on Barack Obama in eliminating racial differences in test performance raise questions about his effectiveness as a role model. Given the timing of this experiment (mid-June to mid-July, 2008), it is quite plausible that data were collected at a time when Obama's accomplishments were not particularly clear or salient. Consistent with the findings of Marx, Ko, & Friedman (in press), having individuals think about Barack Obama does not always eliminate typical performance differences under stereotype threat.

Aronson, J., Jannone, S., McGlone, M., & Johnson-Campbell, T. (2009). The Obama Effect: An Experimental Test. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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