Stereotypes lead to underperformance, says expert

Apr 17, 2013 by Krishna Ramanujan

(Phys.org) —African-Americans with the same grades, test scores and motivation as their white high school counterparts got lower grades in college compared with other groups. And women with the exact same level of preparation received lower grades in advanced math courses, when compared with men.

"Our explanation for this underperformance, in big part, we think it's due to ," where about certain groups – such as the false notions that African-Americans are less bright than others or that are deficient at math – can affect performance, said Claude Steele, dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. He who delivered the Robert L. Harris Jr. ADVANCEments in Science Public Lecture April 11 in Statler Auditorium.

In experiments, Steele found that when pressures were removed, the same stereotyped groups performed as well as their counterparts.

Stereotype threat "happens to everybody," said Steele. The idea is that when a person's identity has a negative stereotype attached to it and that person engages in important activities that are relevant to that stereotype, he or she will become distracted and anxious and then underperform in a manner consistent with the stereotype, Steele said.

In experiments, Steele and colleagues gave women and men who had equal and excellent and motivation part of the Graduate Record Exam for math majors. Steele believed that on top of the frustration of the material faced by both groups, the women would face extra pressures as they fought negative stereotypes about being viewed by society as deficient in math. "Because it's hard, it's frustrating, that makes the stereotype about the group relevant as an interpretation of personal experience," Steele said. In the test, the women "did a whole standard deviation lower than men," he said.

But when the women were told ahead that "you may have heard that women are not as good at math, … but that's not true for this test, this is a test where women always do as well as men …," Steele said, "the women did just as well as equally skilled men. The difference completely went away."

The same results proved true in a test of racial stereotypes, where African-American and were given a standard IQ test where each question involved patterns with different sized squares. Again, "blacks performed a full worse than white students, which is the exact size of the IQ difference between blacks and whites in the general population," said Steele.

But when the groups were told the test was simply a puzzle that has nothing to do with abilities and to have fun with it, "under that instruction, black students performed exactly the same as white students on that test," he said.

On the institutional level, it is important to promote diversity and frame it as being "essential to excellence," where diverse perspectives lead to fresh thinking and solutions to issues, he said. "Presented that way, one realizes one's identity contributes to a situation rather than being a detriment … and that reduces the threat," he added. He also said role models are important for reducing stereotype threat by showing people that someone who shares their identity can be successful.

Steele has published a book on the subject, "Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do" (2010).

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

geokstr
3.4 / 5 (5) Apr 17, 2013
For blacks, how much of that stereotype comes from peer pressure within the black community itself, that studying hard and unlearning Ebonics and getting good grades are "selling out to the Man"?
Czcibor
1 / 5 (1) Apr 18, 2013
There is a flaw in this study. It was shown that people with lower IQ scores in test among other things lack motivation. (when given cash for good scores, their outcomes suddenly improved) In this case the same data can be explained by simply motivation and people more willing to solve the same quiz when called "a fun".

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.