Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Do Test Perceptions Influence Test Performance? Exploring Stereotype Threat Theory

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Do Test Perceptions Influence Test Performance? Exploring Stereotype Threat Theory

Article excerpt

Existing literature provides evidence for the existence of the stereotype threat phenomenon (Steele, 1997; Steele & Aronson, 1995; Taylor & Walton, 2011). Researchers have consistently demonstrated mean subgroup score differences on various measures, including cognitive ability tests across racial and gender groups (Ellis & Ryan, 2003; Hausdorf, LeBlanc, & Chawla, 2002; Hough & Schmidt, 1996; Steele, 1997). These studies show that subgroup differences can typically be triggered by making the subgroup aware of the negative performance stereotype, and subsequently successfully reduced to the level of a control group. The consistency with which these phenomena have been demonstrated provides evidence for the acceptance of stereotype threat as a legitimate influence on test scores.

However, much of the research in this area includes the intentional induction of stereotype threat as part of the experimental design. Thus, results may affect our ability to generalize findings to those situations where stereotype threat is triggered naturally by the testing situation. Examining the theoretical implications in a more natural setting may provide a more concrete understanding of how stereotype threat affects individuals in the real world. This study extends current knowledge by examining stereotype threat without experimental manipulations and also examining both traditional and alternative theoretical interpretations.

Cognitive ability tests are moderately effective predictors of job performance (Hunter & Schmidt, 1996; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Further, because tests are inexpensive and easy to administer, they are widely used in industry for initial candidate selection and for entry into job-related training programs (Hausdorf, LeBlanc, & Chawla, 2002; Hough, Oswald, & Ployhart, 2001; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998).

Despite their role as an effective predictor, however, cognitive ability tests often result in subgroup score differences, thereby resulting in adverse impact on selection (Farr, 2003; Hough, Oswald, & Ployhart, 2001; Sackett & Ellingson, 1997). More specifically, observed scores for blacks are, in general, approximately one standard deviation lower than for whites on cognitive ability tests (Hunter & Hunter, 1984; Sackett & Ellingson, 1997). Therefore, the use of cognitive ability test scores for selection decisions results in relatively fewer Blacks being hired, [i.e., adverse impact (Hough, Oswald, & Ployhart, 2001).]

Research has attempted to identify possible causes of these test score differences (e.g., Ellis & Ryan, 2003; Hausdorf, LeBlanc & Chawla, 2003). One factor that has been proposed as contributing to mean score differences between majority and minority group members is stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995). Specifically, research has shown that tests perceived as diagnostic of intellectual ability (i.e., CATs), trigger stereotype threat that in turn results in poorer test performance (Steele & Aronson, 1995).

Stereotype threat has been defined as the perception of "being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group" (Steele & Aronson, 1995, p. 797). More specifically, stereotype threat involves identifying one's self as a member of a subgroup such as black or white, male or female, and being aware of the existence of the negative stereotypes associated with that subgroup. The threat comes from the perceived risk of confirming those negative stereotypes by performing poorly, or as described by Nisbett, Aronson, Blair, Dickens, Flynn, Halpern, and Turkheimer (2012) as the fear of devaluation due to the common stereotypes. Furthermore, Farr (2003) described stereotype threat as "the pressure individuals may feel when they are at risk of confirming, or being seen by others as confirming" the negative stereotypes associated with one's group (p. …

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