Stereotype Threat: Causes, Effects, and Remedies -- Abstract

Sarah L. Singletary
Enrica N. Ruggs
Michelle R. Hebl
Rice University, Houston, TX

Paul G. Davies
University of British Columbia, Okanagan

It is critical to understand stereotype threat because it not only influences performance decrements but ultimately may impact major life decisions (i.e., choice of major and profession; Davies et al., 2002). This ARP Information Sheet and Literature Review define and describe stereotype threat, a situational predicament that affects individuals when they are at risk of confirming and being personally reduced to a negative group stereotype, which may serve to disrupt and undermine performance and aspirations (Davies, Spencer, Quinn, & Gerhardstein, 2002; Steele & Davies, 2003). For example, women are vulnerable to stereotype threat in domains where stereotypes allege a sex-based inability (e.g., math test). Therefore, when a woman finds herself in a situation where stereotypes provide a plausible explanation for her behavior (e.g., taking a math exam), the risk of being judged by, or treated in terms of, those negative stereotypes can inhibit her performance on that exam. The added burden of stereotype threat can undermine an individual’s performance and aspirations in any stereotype-relevant domain. Research has confirmed that eliminating the situational factors that give rise to stereotype threat can reduce underperformance among stigmatized groups in these targeted domains. In short, removing vulnerability to stereotype threat enables stigmatized individuals to perform to their full potential (Davies, Spencer, Steele, 2005; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Steele & Aronson, 1995).
In the ARP Information Sheet, we present an illustration of stereotype threat that might occur for Lauren, a 10th grader who is enrolled in an advanced math class but is underperforming on her examinations. This illustration is intended to show how stereotype threat might be induced, experienced, and remediated. In the ARP Literature Overview, we review the empirical research on stereotype threat, which suggests that stereotype threat is mediated by mechanisms such as anxiety, arousal, and working memory (Schmader & Johns, 2003; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Steele, 1997). We also discuss strategies that successfully remediate stereotype threat (i.e., de-emphasizing threatened identities, providing examples of stereotyped individuals who have succeeded within the domain; Danaher & Crandall, 2008; Marx & Roman, 2002).

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Developed by The Pennsylvania State University and University of Missouri
Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)