Teachers more likely to label black students as troublemakers

Teachers more likely to label black students as troublemakers

Teachers are likely to interpret students' misbehavior differently depending on the student's race, according to new research findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Racial differences in school discipline are widely known, and black students across the United States are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled, according to Stanford researchers.

Yet the psychological processes that contribute to those differences have not been clear—until now.

"The fact that black children are disproportionately disciplined in school is beyond dispute," said Stanford psychology Professor Jennifer Eberhardt in an interview. "What is less clear is why."

Eberhardt and Stanford psychology graduate student Jason Okonofua examined the involved when discipline black students more harshly than .

In the studies, real-world primary and secondary school teachers were presented with school records describing two instances of misbehavior by a student. In one study, after reading about each infraction, the teachers were asked about their perception of its severity, about how irritated they would feel by the student's misbehavior, about how severely the student should be punished, and about whether they viewed the student as a troublemaker.

A second study followed the same protocol and asked teachers whether they thought the misbehavior was part of a pattern and whether they could imagine themselves suspending the student in the future.

The researchers randomly assigned names to the files, suggesting in some cases that the student was black (with a name such as DeShawn or Darnell) and in other cases that the student was white (with a name such as Greg or Jake).

Across both studies, the researchers found that shaped teachers' responses not after the first infraction but rather after the second. Teachers felt more troubled by a second infraction they believed was committed by a black student rather than by a white student.

In fact, the stereotype of black students as "troublemakers" led teachers to want to discipline black students more harshly than white students after two infractions, Eberhardt and Okonofua said. They were more likely to see the as part of a pattern, and to imagine themselves suspending that student in the future.

"We see that stereotypes not only can be used to allow people to interpret a specific behavior in isolation, but also stereotypes can heighten our sensitivity to behavioral patterns across time. This pattern sensitivity is especially relevant in the schooling context," Eberhardt said.

These results have implications beyond the school setting as well.

As Okonofua said, "Most social relationships entail repeated encounters. Interactions between police officers and civilians, between employers and employees, between prison guards and prisoners all may be subject to the sort of stereotype escalation effect we have identified in our research."

Both Okonofua and Eberhardt suggested that useful interventions with teachers would help them to view student behavior as malleable rather than as a reflection of a fixed disposition, such as that of troublemaker.

While racial disparities can be lessened by psychological interventions that help improve ' behaviors in class, it is also important to understand how that behavior is interpreted by teachers and school authorities, Okonofua said.


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Study finds brain processes that are key to understanding pupils

More information: Psychological Science, pss.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 97615570365.abstract
Journal information: Psychological Science

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Apr 15, 2015
Looking at the crime stats I'd take a guess that a lot of them are. Why shouldn't they be labeled as such if they're doing exactly that. Is it really worth destroying our educational system because we can't punish trouble makers because they're a different color?

Apr 15, 2015
"The fact that black children are disproportionately disciplined in school is beyond dispute," said Stanford psychology Professor Jennifer Eberhardt in an interview. "What is less clear is why."


Blacks are dispraportionately gang members and other violent criminals too.

Starts at an early age, it would seem, when they are taught to "stick it to the white man".

Apr 15, 2015
It would have been good to know if teachers had any actual negative encounters with black students prior to participating in this study. It would have helped to quantify whether the stereotype was strictly societal or shaped by personal experience.

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