1. What is stereotype threat?
  2. Some data on stereotype threat
  3. Some examples on stereotype threat
  4. Counteracting stereotype threat
  5. Philosophical implications of stereotype threat
  6. Further Information

What is Stereotype Threat?

Stereotype threat is a phenomenon that occurs when there is the opportunity or perceived opportunity for an individual to satisfy or confirm a negative stereotype of a group of which she is a member. The threat of possibly satisfying or confirming the stereotype can interfere with the subject’s performance in a variety of tasks, including but not limited to academic performance.

  • The term “stereotype threat” was coined by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson in their (1995) paper: "Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69 (5): 797–811. Here is the way Steele and Aronson (1995) define the term:
  1. “Stereotype threat is being at risk of confirming, as a self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group.”
  2. “It [the present research] focuses on a social-psychological predicament that can arise from widely-known negative stereotypes about one’s group. It is this: the existence of such a stereotype means that anything one does or any of one’s features that conform to it make the stereotype more plausible as a self-characterization in the eyes of others, and perhaps even in one’s own eyes. We call this predicament stereotype threat, and argue that it is experienced, essentially, as a self-evaluative threat.”

Some Data on Stereotype Threat

  • When a verbal test is introduced as diagnostic of ability, blacks tend to perform worse than whites (corrected for SAT scores.) When the test is not introduced in this way, the correlation disappears. Steele, Claude M.; Aronson, Joshua (1995). "Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69 (5): 797–811. Similar results
  • Girls as young as 7-8 years old have been found to experience stereotype threat. Neuville, E., & Croizet, J. (2007). “Can salience of gender identity impair math performance among 7-8 years old girls?” The moderating role of task difficulty. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 22, 307-316. Ambady, N., Shih, M., Kim, A., & Pittinsky, T. L. (2001). “Stereotype susceptibility in children: Effects of identity activation on quantitative performance.” Psychological Science, 12, 385-390.
  • Experiencing stereotype threat can lead people to disengage from the relevant activity or subject matter. Steele, J., James, J. B., & Barnett, R. (2002). Learning in a man's world: Examining the perceptions of undergraduate women in male-dominated academic areas. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 46-50.

Some Situations in Which Stereotype Threat Can Be Triggered

[For the sake of clarity, below “SG” will refer to “group of which there are negative stereotypes relevant to the task at hand or domain in question”.]

·         A person has is the only, or one of a few, members of an SG in a larger group. For example, being the only black person in a room full of people may trigger Stereotype threat. Sekaquaptewa, D., & Thompson, M. (2003). “Solo status, stereotype threat, and performance expectancies: Their effects on women's performance”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 68-74.

  • A person is a member of an SG, and a stereotype about that SG is brought to salience. For example, filling out a questionnaire highlighting one’s race or gender prior to taking a test may be enough to trigger stereotype threat. Shih, M., Pittinsky, T. L., & Ambady, N. (1999). “Stereotype susceptibility: Identity salience and shifts in quantitative performance”. Psychological Science, 10, 80-83.
  • A person is a member of an SG is being assessed, and the assessor is not a member of the SG. For example, women perform better on math tests when their proctors are female than when their proctors are male. Marx, D. M., & Roman, J. S. (2002). “Female role models: Protecting women's math test performance”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1183-1193
  • A person is a member of an SG is being assessed, and the assessment is one that members of that SG tend to underperform on. This is a widely replicated result. The first paper to study this phenomenon was: Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). “Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.

Counteracting Stereotype Threat

  • Explain tasks in ways that are unlikely to create scenarios that trigger stereotype threat. Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). “Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.
  • Make role models prominent. 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. Marx, D. M., & Roman, J. S. (2002).
  • Explicitly reject the stereotype.  Ambady, N., Paik, S. K., Steele, J., Owen-Smith, A., & Mitchell, J. P. (2004). “Deflecting negative self-relevant stereotype activation: The effects of individuation”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 401-408.
  • Be aware and help others be aware of stereotype threat. Being aware of stereotype threat when it occurs helps people combat it. Johns, M., Schmader, T., & Martens, A. (2005). Knowing is half the battle: Teaching stereotype threat as a means of improving women's math performance. Psychological Science, 16, 175-179. Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2003). Stereotype lift. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 456–467.
  • Encourage a malleable (incremental) view of intelligence, rather than a static. Aronson et al. (2002) showed that when African Americans are encouraged to endorse a malleable view of intelligence rather than a static view, they tend to subsequently get better grades. Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the Effects of Stereotype Threat on African American College Students by Shaping Theories of Intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 113-125.
  • Take care in choosing examples and images in your work. Images or examples involving stereotypically acting members of SGs can trigger stereotype threat. Davies, P. G., Spencer, S. J., Quinn, D. M., & Gerhardstein, R. (2002). Consuming images: How television commercials that elicit stereotype threat can restrain women academically and professionally. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1615-1628.
  • Encourage self-affirmation. Martens, A., Johns, M., Greenberg, J., & Schimel (2006). Combating stereotype threat: The effect of self-affirmation on women's intellectual performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 236-243.

Philosophical Implications of Stereotype Threat

  • [We are unaware of any work on the philosophical implications of stereotype threat. If you know of such work, please contact the Department Climate Webmaster.]

Further Information

  • ReducingStereotypeThreat.org Their “Bibliography” page contains an extensive list of articles on stereotype threat as well as detailed abstracts for many of the articles.
  • Smith, Jessi L. (2004). “Understanding the Process of Stereotype Threat: A Review of Mediational Variables and New Performance Goal Directions”, Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 16, No. 3, September 2004.
  • Stroessner, Steve; Good, Catherine. "Stereotype Threat: An Overview". www.dingo.sbs.arizona.edu. Available through ReducingStereotypeThreat.org.