In This Article Stereotype Threat

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Individuals at Risk
  • Field Studies
  • Mechanisms
  • Physiological and Neurological Evidence
  • Moderators
  • Developmental and Cross-Cultural Research
  • Research Methodology
  • Related Phenomena

Psychology Stereotype Threat
by
Amy M. Williams, Ines Jurcevic, Jenessa R. Shapiro
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0115

Introduction

Stereotype threat, a social psychological phenomenon, is a concern about being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype. Whereas previous explanations for gaps between whites and racial minorities in academic achievement, or between men and women in interest and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), have often cited cultural, parental, or even biological factors, stereotype threat points to a very different barrier, a barrier that is not structural but psychological. That is, the concerns at the root of stereotype threat induce an extra cognitive burden that interferes with performance and undermines interest and motivation in stereotype-relevant fields. Experiencing stereotype threat does not require an internalization of the negative stereotype, only an awareness that the stereotype exists and a motivation to disprove the stereotype. Since the initial articulation of stereotype threat in 1995, hundreds of articles have extended the study of this phenomenon. This article includes a general overview of stereotype threat research, provides a review of reference works, and highlights for whom and in what contexts stereotype threats can arise. Additional sections include demonstrations of the phenomenon in both performance and nonperformance domains and highlight the associated compensation strategies individuals employ to cope with stereotype threats. This article also documents the presence of stereotype threat in real-world settings, the common mechanisms that account for stereotype threat effects, the physiological and neurological evidence associated with stereotype threat, the moderators that can enhance or buffer against stereotype threat effects, and a review of the developmental and cross-cultural evidence in support of stereotype threat. Further, this article explores the interventions used to mitigate stereotype threat effects, the common research methods social psychologists use to study stereotype threat, and phenomena closely related to stereotype threat.

General Overviews

This section provides a broad overview of research conducted on stereotype threat, the distracting concern that one’s performance or actions can be seen through the lens of a negative stereotype. Importantly, stereotype threat is an added burden or anxiety pertaining specifically to the negative stereotypes and is felt over and above any general performance anxiety. The seminal article Steele and Aronson 1995 provides the first experimental tests of stereotype threat, demonstrating across a series of studies that black students’ performance on a GRE-like test was hindered when situational cues made racial stereotypes salient. White students’ performance was not influenced by these same cues. Hundreds of empirical papers have been published since this initial work revealing that simple cues in the environment can put anyone at risk for stereotype threat. Stone, et al. 1999 provides a powerful demonstration of the situational nature of stereotype threat by revealing that the mere framing of an identical task can lead to differential stereotype threat-driven performance decrements in whites and racial minorities. Steele, et al. 2002 details some of the first experimental demonstrations of stereotype threat and the mechanisms through which stereotype threat affects performance. Inzlicht and Schmader 2012 provides an updated review of advances in stereotype threat research, noting the presence of stereotype threat in real-world contexts and across the lifespan. Each chapter also includes a brief policy implication section. The website reducingstereotypethreat.org is maintained by two social psychologists and offers an accessible overview of stereotype threat research. Walton and Spencer 2009 (cited under Field Studies) and Nguyen and Ryan 2008 provide meta-analytic evidence for the robustness of stereotype threat effects across groups and cultures. Shapiro and Neuberg 2007 extends the theoretical understanding of stereotype threat by proposing a Multi-Threat Framework, outlining six qualitatively distinct forms of stereotype threats.

  • Inzlicht, Michael, and Schmader Toni, eds. 2012. Stereotype threat: Theory, process, and application. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    An accessible and comprehensive book with chapters written by experts in the field. Chapters address the basic processes by which stereotype threat functions, contemporary theoretical extensions of stereotype threat, mechanisms by which stereotype threat influences outcomes, and stereotype threat effects across the lifespan.

  • Nguyen, Hannah-Hanh D., and Ann Marie Ryan. 2008. Does stereotype threat affect test performance of minorities and women? A meta-analysis of experimental evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology 93.6: 1314–1334.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0012702E-mail Citation »

    A meta-analysis demonstrating that both ethnic minorities and women are susceptible to stereotype threat and experience stereotype threat-driven performance decrements. Examines factors that exacerbate and diminish the influence of stereotype threat on performance, including identification with the stereotyped group and whether stereotypes are explicitly or subtly made salient. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • reducingstereotypethreat.org.

    E-mail Citation »

    Website designed as an accessible overview for a broad audience—academics, teachers, and the general public—to learn about the phenomenon of stereotype threat. Well-organized and periodically updated, this website discusses a wide range of issues and developments relevant to the study and understanding of stereotype threat.

  • Shapiro, Jenessa R., and Steven L. Neuberg. 2007. From stereotype threat to stereotype threats: Implications of a Multi-Threat Framework for causes, moderators, mediators, consequences, and interventions. Personality and Social Psychology Review 11.2: 107–130.

    DOI: 10.1177/1088868306294790E-mail Citation »

    Articulates the Multi-Threat Framework, a theoretical conceptualization of stereotype threat with six core threats arising from two dimensions: the target of stereotype threat (who the stereotype-relevant performance can reflect upon: the self/one’s group) and the source of stereotype threat (who can draw conclusions from the performance: the self/outgroup others/ingroup others). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Steele, Claude M., and Joshua Aronson. 1995. Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69.5: 797–811.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.69.5.797E-mail Citation »

    First empirical demonstration of stereotype threat. Black undergraduates experiencing stereotype threat (compared to those in a no-threat control condition) performed worse on a GRE-like test and reported more doubts about their academic abilities. White students’ performance was not harmed. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Steele, Claude M., Steven J. Spencer, and Joshua Aronson. 2002. Contending with bias: The psychology of stereotype and social identity threat. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Vol. 34. Edited by Mark P. Zanna, 277–341. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Chapter providing a thorough introduction to stereotype threat. Topics covered include the nature of the stereotype threat, the mediators through which stereotype threat functions, and methods for remediating the negative effects of stereotype threat.

  • Stone, Jeff, Christian I. Lynch, Mike Sjomeling, and John M. Darley. 1999. Stereotype threat effects on black and white athletic performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77.6: 1213–1227.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1213E-mail Citation »

    Important set of studies revealing that the framing of a task in terms of a negatively or positively stereotyped ability can help or harm, respectively, performance. In addition, demonstrates that both white and racial minority group members experience stereotype threat. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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