Steele, C.M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype Threat and the intellectual test-performance of African-Americans. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 69 (5): 797-811.

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Although the processes of stereotype activation and resulting patterns of prejudice had been heavily researched by the 1990’s, scientific explanation for the real differences in performance between racial and gender groups was lacking. Thus, the tradition of blaming group disparities on inherent differences between blacks and whites or men and women was still being echoed late into the twentieth century. Steele & Aronson’s (1995) research on Stereotype Threat was a sharp departure from this tradition. In what became a landmark study, black and white participants took a scholatic aptitude test, which was framed as either diagnostic of intellectual ability or as non-indicative of ability. Scores for participants in the ability condition reflected typical black/white disparities, but critically, scores from the non-ability condition did not: blacks performed just as well as whites. Additional manipulations in the study found that racial disparities in performance resulted from participants’ fears that they may confirm negative stereotypes about their group, and that this threat led to a decrease in performance. As such, even the mere salience of a stereotype could negatively impact performance when the related task could confirm or disconfirm the stereotype.

This is a classic article in social psychology as it was the first scientific research to show that differences in racial group performance are at least partially the result of social influence. The theory of Stereotype Threat has been repeatedly validated and replicated with many other social groups which are negatively stereotyped in specific domains (including women’s performance in math and white men’s athletic performance).

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