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PSU

Research Paper: Stereotype


Threat
Jessica Pham
University Studies 114C: Ways of Knowing in the Social
Sciences
December 5, 2011
David Johnson and Zak Mendez






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University Studies 114C: Ways of Knowing in the Social Sciences
Jessica Pham
December 5, 2011
Research Paper: Stereotype Threats
Stereotype threat is the risk of confirming a negative stereotype of a particular social
identity. The term was first used by Stanford University professors, Claude Steele and Aronson
Johnson in their publication, Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African
Americans. It is the experience of anxiety in a situation where a person is in danger in
confirming a negative stereotype about their social group. Everyone experiences some type of
stereotype, although some more than others. It is not only towards race or gender that stereotypes
is made. It can be from characteristics such as the color of a persons hair, the sexual orientation
of an individual, or even the type of car a person drives. Even though stereotypes are verbal, they
can have a deep impact on individuals because they feel that a burden has been placed on them.
Claude Steele states that when a persons social identity is attached to a negative stereotype,
that person will tend to underperform to a persons anxiety that he or she will conform to the
negative stereotype, (College Street Journal, par. 3). This is when stereotype threats are
developed. Stereotype increases distraction and creates a reaction of tenseness and distress on
individuals. Individuals who are aware of their stereotypes have a high risk of conforming to
them and perform according to the negative judgment. Their mentality is affected and so they
underperform. In various research experiments along with my personal experience, social
judgment of certain groups of people sometimes prevent them from succeeding because of
stereotypes.
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Multiple studies have been made about the connection between stereotype threats and
gender performances in mathematics. One study done by Claude Steele and Steven Spencer,
writers of Stereotype Threat and Womens Math Performance, examines the capability of
women performing well in higher levels of mathematics when stereotype threats are made. Steele
and Spencer observed different groups of men and women to determine if the stereotype about
women doing poor in math compared to men affected women. Three studies were done with
different experiments to study the effects of stereotype on women. The first study showed that
women did just as well as men in simple math but did far worse when it came to difficult levels
of math. Study 2 examined if stereotype type was the reason for outcome of Study 1 with the
difficult test. In the second study, a group of students were told that gender difference affected
the results of the test and a second group was told the opposite. Study 3 examines the same study
as Study 2 but with a less highly selected sample.
This study gave interesting results in response to how stereotype threats affect individuals
of a social group. It turns out that, when the participants are told that gender difference will
affect the results, women did dramatically worse than men. When participants are told that
gender has no effect, women performed the same as men. According to a research article done by
the University of Padova, if the stereotype that women are unskilled in mathematics becomes
salient in a testing situation, the stereotype activation will divert womens attention onto task-
irrelevant worries and induce anxiety caused by the fear of confirming the negative stereotype
(Cadinu, Maass, Rosabianca, Kiesner, 572).Women in this second group of Study 2 are less
concerned with gender differences and so they focus better. The results of Study 3 are the same
as Study 2. In conclusion, stereotype threat against women limits their abilities but their
performance can be improved when gender difference are not made.
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Another well-known stereotype threat that is generated is the idea that African Americans
underperform in school compared to Whites. Irwin Katz and his colleagues studied this
stereotype threat to understand the reason for the big racial gap of education between Whites and
Blacks. Katz found that blacks score better on an IQ test when they believe the test will be
compared to that of other black. From Katz, Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson developed a
research to study the effects of intellectual inferiority of minorities on standardized test
performance and school outcome. Five studies were done in this experiment from students in
Stanford University.
In their experiment, they concluded that, when African Americans are aware of the
stereotype, their rate as well as the accuracy of their performance are impaired. For example, in
the fourth study, participants were asked to record their race on demographic questionnaire
before taking the test. Because the test-takers were more aware of their racial stereotypes, they
felt threatened and performed badly on the test even if the test was not presented as a diagnostic
of intellectual ability. In the first three studies, stereotypes were primed for the students which
therefore prevented them from doing well on the test. When people are aware that their race is
perceived a certain way, they have more to think about during a test. Steele states this as a racial
vulnerability. An African American student proclaims, For some reason I didnt score well on
tests. Maybe I was just nervous. Theres a lot of pressure on you, knowing that if you fail, you
fail your race (Aronson, 400). African Americans in this situation have more doubt and less
inspiration to do well.
Being Asian, I always hear the stereotype that we are good only at math. Throughout
elementary and middle school, I was in classrooms of primarily African Americans and
Caucasians who constantly reminded me that I have a natural talent in math and good at nothing
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else. In subjects that included mathematics, students would come to be for advice even when I
had no clue how to solve problems. It is because they assume that all Asians would simply
understand the topic. On the other hand, when other subjects were taught, students would know
to avoid me for help because they assume that I could not edit their essays or have proper
grammar. Because of the negative comments that I could never improve in other skills, I kept up
with the stereotype and only did well in mathematics. Writing and reading on the other hand,
were in no degree close to skills I had in math. I had trouble comprehending readings and writing
essays were challenges. I had little motivation to try harder in challenging subjects. I was a
victim of the stereotype threat. In my years in high school, I had observed that race does not
affect a students capability in math. I have found classmates who are experts in math and are not
Asians and I have also found Asians classmates who do well in English. When I realized that
there were students who were good at writing, I had the motivation to try harder. The stereotype
threat observed from my experience in the past no longer applied when I got to high school.
Stereotype threat is certainly a problem in general education and definitely an issue in
college education. In correspondence to my personal example, stereotypes at a young age can
surely affect a students ability to perform in school. Students will eventually follow the
stereotype that they are placed in and have difficulty ignoring the problem. Those who are
frequently told that their group act a certain way will eventually end up following the stereotype.
As stated in the Steele, Spencer, and Quinn publication, when a stereotype about ones group
indicts an important ability, ones performance comes under an extra pressure and this extra
pressure may interfere with performance (Steele, Spencer, Quinn, 6). The misjudgment would
then grow larger and have a stronger impact.
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In agreement with Claude Steele and Steven Spencer and other similar researches, the
idea that, women do poorly in math than men do, will encourage the idea that women are
subordinate to men when it comes to higher levels of math. This is the case with higher levels of
math, such as those in college. Women still underperform on some standardized test and still
are less likely than men to major in math and science or enter careers that demand these skills
(Hewitt and Seymour, 14). Because women feel that society has planted an idea that they cannot
perform well in certain subjects, they avoid them as much as possible. It is the same when the
stereotype is about different race. When African Americans hear the stereotype that they are
failures in school, they may adapt to that idea and do negatively in school. Therefore, in both
general and higher education, stereotype threat needs to be addressed.
There are many ways in encouraging people to no longer speak of stereotypes. Along
with research about the effects of stereotype threats on individuals, there have also been various
researches on how to prevent or eliminate it. This may include, changing students idea about
how intelligence is developed. An incremental view of intelligence is an idea that views
intelligence as a never-ending improvement and that people can always do better than they have
done. It involves emphasizing the importance of effort and motivation and involves avoids
encouraging natural talent. Those who believe in incremental theory are likely to increase
efforts to further learning and to overcome obstacles, (ReducingStereotypeThreat.org, par. 12)
when are faced with stereotypes. In the incremental theory, Joshua Aronson, Carrie Fried, and
Catherine Good developed a research to test this method to helping students resist to stereotype
threat. In this experiment, college students mentored younger students to emphasize expandable
intelligence since older the older students had more knowledge than the younger students. . From
their experiment, they found that African American students who were encouraged to see
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intelligence as a malleable rather than fixed capacity, (Aronson, Fried, Good, 123) reported
to do equally well in school and have greater academic engagements as White students. This
study proves that stereotype threats can be avoided.
Stereotypes are generated from society. They exist from groups of individuals promoting
the misunderstanding about other groups of people. In my opinion, those who talk of people as
groups and not individuals, do so to look down on others and when their stereotypes are true,
they are pleased with themselves. By preventing the spread of negative labels on people, those
who are spoken about can fight against the stereotypes prescribed on them. Concerning
education, all types of students experience some sort of stereotype regardless of their sex, race,
or religion. Stereotype threats are in response to these stereotypes because individuals feel
helpless and less motivated when they encounter a situation that involves their stereotype. It is a
mental condition that can negatively affect students in school. Because of the negative impact of
stereotype on students, victims tend to do poorly in school and conform towards those
accusations. Many do not know how to solve these issues and therefore stereotype threats
become more common. Educators need to discover methods of mediating against the negative
effects of stereotype threat. It would be more profitable by endorsing the idea that people act as
they do and do as they please from individual talent and choice because people would be counted
as a single person and not as a whole. Although there is no solid method in preventing the spread
of stereotypes and its effects on people, there are many ways to reduce or minimize it. Similar to
many societal problems, the challenges of removing stereotype threats require one step at a time.



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Works Cited
Aronson, Elliot. "The Effects of Stereotype Threat on the Standardized Test Performance of
College Students." Readings about the Social Animal (1984).
Cadinu, Maru, et al. "Why Do Women Underperform Under Stereotype Threat? Evidence for the
Role of Negative Thinking." Psychological Science 16.7 (2005): 572-578. Print.
Fried, Carrie B, Catherine Good and Joshua Aronson. "Reducing the Effects of Stereotype
Threat on African American College Students by Shaping Theories of Intelligence."
Journal of Experiemental Social Psychology 38.2 (2002): 113-125. Print.
Hewitt, N M and E. Seymour. "Factors contributing to high attrition rates among science and
engineering undergraduate majors." Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (n.d.). Print.
Quinn, Diane M. and Steven J. Spencer. "The Interference of Stereotype Threat with Women's
Generation of Mathemathical Problem-Solving Strategies." Journal of Social Issues 57.1
(2001): 55-71. Print.
Spencer, Steven J., Claude M. Steele and Diane M. Quinn. "Stereotype Threat and Women's
Math Performance." Journal of Experiemental Social Psychology 35.1 (1999): 4-28.
Print.
Steele, Claude M. Stereotype Threat. n.d. 5 December 2011.
<http://sitemaker.umich.edu/356.pitts/stereotype_threat_>.
Steele, Claude M and Joshua Aronson. "Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance
of African Americans." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69.5 (1995): 797-
811. Print.
Steele Discusses "Stereotype Threat". 24 September 2004. 05 December 2011.
<http://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/comm/csj/092404/steele.shtml>.
What Can Be Done to Reduce Stereotype Threat? n.d. 05 December 2011.
<http://reducingstereotypethreat.org/reduce.html>.