Stereotype Threat: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 Stereotype Threat
  • 0:48 Stereotype Threat &…
  • 2:07 Combating Stereotype Threat
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What happens when someone is put in a situation where they might prove a stereotype correct? In this lesson, we'll review what stereotype threat is, what effects it can have on performance, and how to reduce it.

Stereotype Threat

Grace is the only black doctor at the clinic where she works. The other doctors are nice to her, but every time she makes a mistake or comes in late to work, she feels like they're all thinking, 'Well, that's because she's black.' She feels like everything she does wrong reflects not only on her, but on her entire race.

Stereotype threat is the fear that you'll confirm a negative stereotype about a group that you belong to. In Grace's case, she's afraid that by making a mistake, she's promoting the stereotype that African Americans aren't good doctors. And, every time she's late for work, she fears she's confirming the stereotype that African Americans are always late.

Stereotype Threat and Performance

When faced with stereotype threat, often people get so nervous that they perform worse, confirming the stereotype. Joshua Aronson and Claude Steele first introduced the idea of stereotype threat and its effect on academics in a famous study on the impact of test instructions on racial minorities.

In their study, African American and white college students were given a difficult portion of the Graduate Record Examination test, used in applications for graduate schools. Some of the students were given instructions that increased stereotype threat for the black students, and some were given instructions that did not make the black students experience stereotype threat.

The results were powerful: in the stereotype threat condition, black students performed far worse than their white counterparts. However, in the non-stereotype threat condition, they performed slightly better than the white students. Aronson & Steele concluded that stereotype threat has a strong influence on academic success.

Further studies on stereotype threat have shown the same types of results for other groups, including other racial minorities, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and women. Some studies have even shown that white men are vulnerable to stereotype threat when they are taking a math or science test with Asian students!

Combating Stereotype Threat

There are several things that can be done to reduce the negative effects of stereotype threat. One is to change the instructions to lower the chance of stereotype threat occurring. In Aronson & Steele's research, they found that saying that the test was a measure of intelligence increased stereotype threat because minority students were afraid to confirm the stereotype that their race was less intelligent.

However, when the directions said that the test was not a measure of intelligence, but simply a test that says nothing about intelligence, many of the effects of stereotype threat were erased.

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