Philosophy Dictionary of Arguments

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Haslam I 245
Stereotype Threat/Joshua Aronson/Steele: Steele and Aronson’s work on what they called stereotype threat was informed in various ways by other social psychological theories of the day. In particular, in the 1980s, social psychology had developed influential theories about the role of social identities in self-definition (Tajfel and Turner, 1979(1)), motives to preserve self-integrity (Steele, 1988(2)), consensually shared and automatically triggered social stereotypes (Devine, 1989(3)), and the consequences of social stigma for those who are targeted by it (Crocker and Major, 1989(4)).
Aronson/Steele thesis: situational reminders of negative racial stereotypes that exist and threaten to impugn the intellectual abilities of African Americans might impair Black students’ ability to perform well academically.
“[Black] students [who] perform an explicitly scholastic or intellectual task, (…) face the threat of confirming or being judged by a negative societal stereotype – a suspicion – about their group’s intellectual ability and competence” (Steele and Aronson, 1995: 797)(5).
They hypothesized that because this self-threat is not experienced by people who are not stereotyped in this manner (e.g., White students), simply knowing that one’s intellectual abilities are being assessed and compared across racial groups might impair performance for Black relative to White students. There had been earlier evidence for this hypothesis by Katz (Katz et al., 1964(6); Katz et al., 1965(7)), which was cited by Steele and Aronson. >Experiment/Aronson/Steele.
Haslam I 248
Result of the studies (>Experiment/Aronson/Steele): Black participants in the race prime condition answered significantly fewer items correctly than those in all other conditions (again controlling for prior SAT score). They also seemed to approach the questions more methodically in the race prime condition — completing fewer items, avoiding guesses, but still performing somewhat less accurately. There were no differences found for reported effort and performance estimates, but a follow-up study reported in the discussion section suggested that priming race might have elevated anxiety for Black compared with White participants.
Interpretation/Steele/Aronson: having their abilities tested reminds Black students of negative racial stereotypes and motivates them to distance themselves from them. They might be plagued by greater feelings of self-doubt (and perhaps anxiety) and seek to self-handicap for potentially poor performance.



1. Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979) 4An integrative theory of intergroup conflict’, in W.G.
Austin and S. Worchel (eds), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey,
CA: Brooks-Cole. pp. 33—48.
2. Steele, C.M. (1988) ‘The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self’,
Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 21: 261—302.
3. Devine, P.G. (1989) ‘Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled compo
nents’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56: 5—18.
4. Crocker,J. and Major, B. (1989) Socia1 stigma and self-esteem: The self-protective properties of stigma’, Psychological Review, 96:608—30.
5. Steele, C.M. and Aronson, J. (1995) ‘Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance
of African-Americans’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69: 797—811.
6. Katz, I., Epps, E.G. and Axelson, L.J. (1964) ‘Effect upon negro digit-symbol performance ofanticipated comparison with whites and with other negroes’, Journal of Abnormal and
Social Psychology, 69(1): 77—83.
7. Katz, I., Roberts, S.O. and Robinson, J.M. (1965) ‘Effects of task difficulty, race of administrator, and instructions on digit-symbol performance of Negroes’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2: 53—59.


Toni Schmader and Chad Forbes, “Stereotypes and Performance. Revisiting Steele and Aronson’s stereotypes threat experiments”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Aronson, Joshua M.
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2020-09-19
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