30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
A group of friends enjoy a throwing competition on a beach. As one of the girls curls back her arm ready to throw, niggling at her mind is an awareness that the boys in the group think girls can’t throw. Their belief is of course a gross generalization and the girl is anxious that if her throw is weak it will only serve to reinforce the boys’ sexist assumptions. Unfortunately, this anxiety undermines her performance — a self-fulfilling effect known as stereotype threat. The phenomenon of stereotype threat was christened by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson in 1995 after they discovered that black participants performed worse at an intelligence test when it was described to them as a test of ability, rather than as an investigation of how people generally solve problems. Since then, stereotype threat has been documented in relation to other social contexts including gender and mental illness. For example, female chess players perform more poorly when they think they’re up against a male opponent, and patients with schizophrenia have been found to behave more awkwardly when they think their diagnosis has been revealed to a social partner, even when it hasn’t.
Fearing that if we perform badly, other people will use that as evidence to reinforce their prejudices can cause us anxiety and make a poor performance more likely.
Psychologist Geoff Cohen tested a possible buffer against stereotype threat. He asked black and white 12-year-old students to spend ten minutes, several times a year, writing about something they valued — such as family or music — an exercise known to reduce stress and fear of failure. The minority black pupils, at risk of stereotype threat, showed improved grades two years later whereas the majority white children did not; nor did a control group of both black and white pupils who wrote about their morning routine.
ALLPORT’S CONTACT HYPOTHESIS
FOLLOW THE LEADER
FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR
If you fear that your performance will be used to reinforce stereotypes about your sex, age or race, the situation could unfortunately become self-fulfilling.