Understanding Stereotype Threat

“The problem is that the pressure to disprove a stereotype changes what you are about in a situation. It gives you an additional task. In addition to learning new skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking in a schooling situation, or in addition to trying to perform well in a workplace, you are also trying to slay a ghost in the room, the negative stereotype and its allegation about you and your group. You are multitasking, and because the stakes involved are high—survival and success versus failure in an area that is important to you –this multitasking is stressful and distracting.”

-Claude M. Steele, Whistling Vivaldi (page number needed)

Do you know the answers to these questions? If not, do you know where to find them?

Retrieved from Reducing Stereotype Threat.org 

What is stereotype threat?

Who is vulnerable to stereotype threat?

What are the consequences of stereotype threat?

What are the situations that lead to stereotype threat?

What can be done to reduce stereotype threat?

Stereotype threat refers to being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group  (Steele & Aronson, 1995). This term was first used by Steele and Aronson (1995) who showed in several experiments that Black college freshmen and sophomores performed more poorly on standardized tests than White students when their race was emphasized. When race was not emphasized, however, Black students performed better and equivalently with White students. The results showed that performance in academic contexts can be harmed by the awareness that one's behavior might be viewed through the lens of racial stereotypes.

The advisor’s power to mitigate stereotype threat and support students.

  • Reframing the task: Stereotype threat arises in situations where task descriptions highlight social identities associated with poor performance. Modifying task descriptions so that stereotypes are not invoked or are disarmed can eliminate stereotype threat.
  • Deemphasizing threatened social identities: Encouraging individuals to think of themselves in ways that reduce the salience of a threatened identity can also attenuate stereotype threat effects.
  • Encouraging self-affirmation: A general means for protecting the self from perceived threats and the consequences of failure is to allow people to affirm their self-worth.
  • Emphasizing high standards with assurances about capability for meeting them: Constructive feedback appears most effective when it communicates high standards for performance but also assurance that the student is capable of meeting those high standards (Cohen, Steele, & Ross, 1999).
  • Providing role models: …providing role models demonstrating proficiency in a domain can reduce or even eliminate stereotype threat effects (Blanton, Crocker, & Miller, 2000).
  • Providing external attributions for difficulty: …providing individuals with an external attributions or effective strategies for regulating anxiety and arousal can disarm stereotype threat.
  • Emphasizing an incremental view of intelligence: These studies suggest that stereotype threat can be reduced or even eliminated if an incremental view of ability is emphasized. Doing so involves emphasizing the importance of effort and motivating in performance and de-emphasizing inherent “talent” or “genius.” Individuals who are encouraged to think in incremental terms will tend to react more effectively to challenge and are less likely to fear confirming negative stereotypes of their group.

BACK to Practice

Which of these strategies for mitigating stereotype threat resonates with you?

How might you incorporate use of this strategy in an advising appointment?

Go Further


How Stereotype Threat Affects Us And What We Can Do

Stereotype Threat: A Conversation with Claude Steele


Empirically Validated Strategies to Reduce Stereotype Threat

How Mindfulness Can Defeat Racial Bias

Underwear Models, “Dumb Blondes,” and Stereotype Threat

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, Claude M. Steele

Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology, Jason Marsh, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Jeremy Adam Smith