Back To CourseTopics in Sociology
8 chapters | 89 lessons
Claude Steele, a psychologist asked to discover the underlying causes of perceived black student academic deficits, asked himself a question. Are the stereotypes true? Is it true that black students perform worse than white and Asian students in college? Of course the overwhelming answer to that was yes, but then he asked a different and much more important question. Why?
Is it actually true that black students are not as capable academically as white or Asian students, or is there some other cause? He was asking a basic question about unfair stereotypes, which are sets of beliefs about groups of people or things that are much more simplistic than the complex reality that underlies them. I'm sure you've heard many (and possibly have even had them directed you): Why can't white people dance? Why are Asian students always so good at math? Why are black people always committing crimes? Why do Middle Eastern or Indian people only work at convenience stores? All of these are pretty offensive stereotypes that negatively pigeon-hole an ethnic or racial group (even though some of them, as you can see, are relatively neutral or even positive-sounding). Though they may be true in some individual cases, they are not generally true about a group. And that is the problem with stereotypes. They are broad statements about a group of people that do not actually represent the whole.
So Dr. Steele decided to search for that underlying truth. His hypothesis (the starting point of an experiment where a statement of potential truth is offered) was that black students were just as capable as white and Asian students, but he had to find a way to uncover that truth. To prove his assumption, he designed an experiment.
Claude Steele chose Stanford University as the site for the experiment. As one of the top academic universities in the world, Stanford was a perfect setting to examine the relative truth of poorer academic performance. In order to make sure that the results were accurate, the participants had to be random volunteers and he needed to separate them into groups.
The three groups, consisting of black and white students, were asked what their pre-college SAT score was and then they were given a test containing verbal acuity questions from the Graduate Records Exam (GRE). A white monitor handed out the test and told the groups what the test was supposed to measure. One group was told that the test was diagnostic of their intellectual ability, another group was told that the test was just a simple problem solving task that had nothing to do with their intellectual ability, and the third group was told that though the test had nothing to do with intellectual ability it was difficult.
Dr. Steele reasoned that the three groups would yield different results. He believed that the students in the first group would score worse than the white students because they believed the stereotype regarding their intellectual incapability when compared to white students. The second group would score better than the first (likely equal to their white counterparts) because they did not believe that they were being tested for intellectual ability. The third group was a control group (which is an experimental sample given no interference by the experimenter and serves as a baseline comparison to the tested variables) that was given instructions similar to both of the other groups and was expected to perform similarly to the second group.
As expected, the two primary groups performed differently. The group of black students who thought their intellectual ability was being tested performed worse than those who did not have that thought. Claude Steele had designed an experiment that confirmed his supposition.
His original belief was that stereotypes become ingrained in the psyche of those stereotyped. Once a group believes a stereotype, they will subconsciously act to prove it true. In the case of the black students in this experiment, they had heard, and were threatened by, the stereotype that they were intellectually inferior to white students. So when they took a test that was 'known' to them that tested intellectual ability, they performed worse than they were capable of because of the threat.
Dr. Steele labeled this phenomenon stereotype threat. They defined this term as the fear an individual has that they will confirm a negative stereotype about their group. Because the individual feels this threat, Dr. Steele believed that they were more likely to actually carry it out. In the experiment he designed, He found out that this was true. The black students understood the stereotype about their intellectual ability as compared to white and Asian students, they internalized the stereotype such that it became a threat to their actual ability, and they actually confirmed the stereotype because of the perceived threat. There has been additional evidence supporting Dr. Steele's original hypothesis, but the concept of stereotype threat has been met with controversy over the years. This has included allegations that the original study suffered from publication bias (when a research results are published more because of the hypothesis and less because of the quality of the research itself) and an inability to replicate the results of the original study.
Dr. Claude Steele was a psychologist tasked with finding out why black students performed more poorly in academics than their white and Asian peers. This became, in essence, a study on the effects of stereotypes, which are sets of beliefs about groups of people or things that are much more simplistic than the complex reality that underlies them. He developed a hypothesis (the starting point of an experiment where a statement of potential truth is offered) that stated black students were just as capable as white and Asian students, but he had to find a way to uncover that truth. To prove his assumption, he designed an experiment, using random black and white students at Stanford University in which the students were tested for verbal acuity. One group of students was told the test was an intellectual exercise and the other was told that it was not (a third group was used as a control group, which is an experimental sample given no interference by the experimenter and serves as a baseline comparison to the tested variables).
From this experiment, Dr. Steele discovered that there was actually no difference between the students, independent of race. However, the group of black students who thought it was a test of intellectual ability, performed worse on the test because they believed the stereotype. Dr. Steele coined a term, 'stereotype threat,' from this study. Stereotype threat meant that groups were threatened by negative stereotypes and would subconsciously prove the stereotypes true because of the perceived threat of fulfilling the threat. It was a groundbreaking experiment that led to unlocking the truth regarding many different stereotypes, though it has met controversy over the years including an inability to replicate the original results and allegations of publication bias (when a research results are published more because of the hypothesis and less because of the quality of the research itself).
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Back To CourseTopics in Sociology
8 chapters | 89 lessons
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