What Is Stereotype Threat?

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Coined by social scientists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, stereotype threat refers to the risk of conforming to a negative stereotype of one’s group.

In 1995 Steele and Aronson conducted a study to see if the existence of negative stereotypes caused those stereotypes to be perpetuated. Testing the stereotype that Black students were less intelligent than White students, they gave a mixed group of students various tests and studied the results.

When the test instructors emphasized the role of race before a test, Black students performed worse than White students. When no mention was made of race, Black and White students performed equally well.

Stereotype threat can influence behavior in a variety of ways. When people fear that they might live up to a negative stereotype, they tend to reduce their efforts, disengage, or change their goals to avoid a negative stereotype.

The impact of stereotype threat can be reduced by:

  • Providing role models
  • Encouraging self-affirmation
  • Emphasizing effort over results
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