Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat

Primarily taken from:

Stereotype threat refers to being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic a negative stereotype about one's group. Understood as a threat that arises when one is doing something for which a negative stereotype for one's group applies. In these situations, individuals are at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about their group.

An example of stereotype threat is a member of a stigmatized group (i.e., African American students, women) feeling apprehension about performing on an academic task because the individual is afraid that a possible poor performance may confirm a pre-existing negative stereotype about the individual's group (i.e., intellectual capabilities of African Americans or perceived underperformance of women in science and mathematics).

Any individual can be harmed by the stereotype threat, but those who are most vulnerable are any individuals for whom there is a stereotype-based expectation for poor performance on a task. Applied to an academic setting, the stereotype threat is commonly manifested in the performance of minorities on certain academic tasks, and the performance of females in math or physics tasks. These psychological stressors have little to do with students' sense of competence regarding intellectual tasks, but rather they stem from the negative stereotypes associated with their performance in testing situations. Membership in a minority or low-status group is not a prerequisite for experiencing stereotype threat. However, being a member of such a group does expose an individual to stereotype threat more regularly. Consequences

There are a number of far-reaching consequences of the stereotype threat. Most obvious of the consequences is underperforming on a task for which there is a negative stereotype. Other consequences include a reduced sense of belonging in the stereotyped domain and reduced degree that individuals value the domain in question. In education, it can also lead students to choose not to pursue a particular domain of study and, consequently, limit the range of professions that they can pursue.

Methods of reducing the stereotype threat

  • Signaling to students that they are fully expected to fare well in general and successfully meet the high academic standard found in and across various academic domains and settings.
  • Affirming the self worth of students and having them think of skills or areas in which they feel particularly competent.
  • Reframe or provide different language for the task being used so that the stereotypes no longer apply. For example, referring to exams as measures of preparation of comprehension rather than measures of intelligence or aptitude.
  • Deemphasizing threatened social identities has also shown to be effective. One example of this would be to move questions of ethnicity and gender to the end of the test.
  • Encouraging individuals to think of themselves in ways that reduce the salience of a threatened identity. For example, reminding female students to think of their status as college students rather than focusing on their gender.

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