The Stereotype Trap: From 'White Men Can't Jump' to 'Girls Can't Do Math,' Negative Images That Are Pervasive in the Culture Can Make Us Choke during Tests of Ability

By Begley, Sharon | Newsweek, November 6, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Stereotype Trap: From 'White Men Can't Jump' to 'Girls Can't Do Math,' Negative Images That Are Pervasive in the Culture Can Make Us Choke during Tests of Ability


Begley, Sharon, Newsweek


The students had no idea of the real purpose of the study they had volunteered for--it is, after all, standard operating procedure in psychology to keep subjects in the dark on that little point. (If volunteers know they're being studied for, say, whether they will help a blind child cross a busy street, it tends to skew their behavior.) So when 40 black and 40 white Princeton undergraduates volunteered to play mini-golf, the psychologists dissembled a bit. This is a test of "natural ability," Jeff Stone and his colleagues informed some of the kids. This is a test of "the ability to think strategically," they told others. Then the students--nongolfers all--played the course, one at a time. Among those told the test measured natural ability, black students scored, on average, more than four strokes better than whites. In the group told the test gauged strategic savvy, the white kids scored four strokes better, the researchers reported last year. "When people are reminded of a negative stereotype about themselves--'white men can't jump' or 'black men can't think'--it can adversely affect performance," says Stone, now at the University of Arizona.

Another group of students, 46 Asian-American female undergrads at Harvard, thought they were taking a tough, 12-question math test. Before one group attacked the advanced algebra, they answered written questions emphasizing ethnicity ("How many generations of your family have lived in America?"). Another group's questionnaire subtly reminded them of their gender ("Do you live on a co-ed or single-sex dorm floor?"). Women who took the math test after being reminded of their Asian heritage--and thus, it seems, the stereotype that Asians excel at math--scored highest, getting 54 percent right. The women whose questionnaire implicitly reminded them of the stereotype that, for girls, "math is hard," as Barbie infamously said, scored lowest, answering 43 percent correctly.

The power of stereotypes, scientists had long figured, lay in their ability to change the behavior of the person holding the stereotype. If you think women are ninnies ruled by hormonal swings, you don't name them CEO; if you think gays are pedophiles, you don't tap them to lead your Boy Scout troop. But five years ago Stanford University psychologist Claude Steele showed something else: it is the targets of a stereotype whose behavior is most powerfully affected by it. A stereotype that pervades the culture the way "ditzy blondes" and "forgetful seniors" do makes people painfully aware of how society views them--so painfully aware, in fact, that knowledge of the stereotype can affect how well they do on intellectual and other tasks. Now, with half a decade of additional research under their belts, psychologists are discovering the power of stereotypes not only over blacks, but over women, members of ethnic minorities and the elderly, too. And the research is shedding light on such enduring mysteries as why black kids, even those from middle-class families and good schools, often score lower than white kids on standardized tests.

In their seminal 1995 study, Steele and Joshua Aronson, now at New York Uni- versity, focused on how the threat posed by stereotypes affects African-Americans. They reasoned that whenever black students take on an intellectual task, like an SAT, they face the prospect of confirming widely held suspicions about their brainpower. This threat, the psychologists suspected, might interfere with performance. To test this hunch, Steele and Aronson gave 44 Stanford undergrads questions from the verbal part of the tough Graduate Record Exam. One group was asked, right before the test, to indicate their year in school, age, major and other information. The other group answered all that, as well as one final question: what is your race? The results were sobering. "Just listing their race undermined the black students' performance," says Steele, making them score significantly worse than blacks who did not note their race, and significantly worse than all whites. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Stereotype Trap: From 'White Men Can't Jump' to 'Girls Can't Do Math,' Negative Images That Are Pervasive in the Culture Can Make Us Choke during Tests of Ability
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.