Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Stereotype Threat and How to Reduce It

Stereotype threat names the negative effects that the mere awareness of a stereotype can have on student performance. Research first published in 1995 has shown that student performances can suffer when they are aware that their work might be viewed through the lens of racial and other stereotypes.

What can we do to reduce stereotype threat in the classroom?

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is adopt and encourage the view that intelligence is not fixed but something that can be strengthened. Research shows that stereotype threat affected students with fixed-intelligence views but had no effect on students with incremental-intelligence views.  

It seems giving students an opportunity to express self affirmations really helps, too. Asking students to write informally prior to exams about their positive characteristics or about skills that they value or view as important has been shown to reduce stress and to improve performance—and to mitigate the effect of stereotype threat.

Providing role models for threatened groups is also recommended. In experiments carried out by MacIntyre and colleagues, stereotype threats for women taking math exams were attenuated if prior to the exam the subjects read even one essay about a successful woman in a field such as architecture. And the effect was stronger after having read two such essays.

Some experts suggest faculty incorporate or refer to the field-specific achievements or contributions of threatened groups. A computer scientist offered me the example of Alan Turing, the profoundly influential mathematician and code breaker. Merely mentioning in passing that Turing was a homosexual who was unjustly persecuted by the British government is a positive affirmation for LGBTQ students in the class.

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