56 Stereotypes, Racial

Based on Research by Claude Steel, Ph.D. and Jason Aronson, Ph.D.. Psychology Science Minute written by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D..

Do negative racial stereotypes play a role in our taking academic and intellectual tests?

Psychologists Claude Steel & Jason Aronson studied the influence of racial stereotypes.  They asked African American students to identify their race before taking an intellectual test, thereby directing students’ attention to their race. When this cueing occurred, the African American students got only  half as many questions right as when race was not mentioned.  Half!  They additionally found that when intelligence and achievement are explained to students as characteristics that are not “fixed” but instead can be improved, then test scores increased and the cultural gap decreased.

It seems humans unconsciously soak up negative stereotypes easily.  Of most concern, people of color begin to believe these negative stereotypes about their own race.  Unfortunately, the notion of possibly confirming negative stereotypes may lead African American students to lose motivation and thus perform less well academically.

Negative stereotypes whether overt or subtle, do cause harm. Students’ achievement can surpass expectations when not curtailed by limiting stereotypes.  Remember work hard and set up your own expectations for success.  Go for it!


Good, C., Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2003). Improving adolescents’ standardized test performance: An intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 645-662.

Steele, C.M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 6, 613-629.

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

Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28.

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