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The Obama Effect: How a salient role model reduces race-based performance differences

This study used a large national sample to investigate the impact of Barack Obama's campaign and election on racial differences in test performance under stereotype threat. Samples of Black and White adults who had volunteered to complete a series of web-based experiments were contacted at four points during 2008: i) just prior to the Democratic National Convention (Aug 22-24), ii) in the days following Obama's nomination acceptance speech (Aug 28-Sept 2), iii) midway between the convention and the general election (Oct 1-4), and iv) in the days following Obama's election (Nov 5-7). At these times, participants completed a difficult verbal exam using items drawn from the GRE. To induce stereotype threat amongst Blacks, all participants were told that the exam was useful for diagnosing their intellectual strengths and weaknesses. Results showed that White participants performed better than Black participants at times when Obama's successes were less salient (Times 1 & 3). However, the performance of Black and White participants did not differ significantly immediately after the election (Time 4). In addition, Black and White participants' who watched Obama's acceptance speech (Time 3) did not differ significantly, but Whites performed better than Blacks who had not seen the speech. These results show that the successes of a Black role model can attenuate performance decrements that typically emerge under stereotype threat, and the degree of attenuation appear to be calibrated with the magnitude of Obama's accomplishments and corresponding positive media coverage. Consistent with other findings (Aronson, Jannone, McGlone, & Johnson-Campbell, in press), these results demonstrate that real-world role models, such as Obama, can trump racial stereotypes, but only when their success and accomplishments are especially salient to fellow ingroup members. A focus on Obama eliminated typical stereotype threat effects only at those times when considerable media attention was drawn to his stereotype-defying accomplishments and not at times when less attention was drawn to his race, associated stereotypes, and his achievements.

Marx, D. M., Ko, S. J., & Friedman, R. A. (In Press). The Obama Effect: How a salient role model reduces race-based performance differences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
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