Research Looks at Stereotype Vulnerability among Black Students

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NEW YORK

Students who felt they were being racially stereotyped were more likely to show difficulty in assessing their academic skills and performance than those who hadn't felt the stigma, according to New York University research.

'The Ups and Downs of Attributional Ambiguity: Stereotype Vulnerability and the Academic Self Knowledge of African American College Students" study is funded by the National Science Foundation and is published in the December issue of Psychological Science.

"Social scientists have long been puzzled about why African American students seem to maintain high aspirations, even in cases where their own past performances makes these aspirations unwarranted. These studies are important in that they tie this "unrealistic optimism" to students' expectations of prejudice - and to actual prejudices, as well - that they encounter," said Dr. Joshua Aronson, NYU applied psychology professor who co-wrote the study with Dr. Michael Inzlicht, assistant professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada. Both researchers conclude that the study demonstrates the fragility of academic perceptions, creating a roller-coaster ride of self-confidence for stereotype-vulnerable students.

In one of the studies, the researchers measured students' confidence levels over a period of a week. Black students with high levels of stereotype vulnerability expressed both extreme overconfidence and extreme underconfidence, depending on when their confidence was measured. Black students who weren't stereotype vulnerable did not differ in the stability of the confidence from White students in the study, which the researcher attribute to the fact that accurate academic self-knowledge helps people maintain stable confidence in their abilities. …