The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘stereotype threat’

The Power of Stereotypes and Need for “Affirmative Meritocracy”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 3, 2012

From Stanford University News:

When it comes to affirmative action, the argument usually focuses on diversity. Promoting diversity, the Supreme Court ruled in 2003, can justify taking race into account.

But some people say this leads to the admission of less qualified candidates over better ones and creates a devil’s choice between diversity and merit.

Not so, says Stanford psychologist Greg Walton. Diversity and meritocracy are not always at odds.

In fact, sometimes it is only by taking race and gender into account that schools and employers can admit and hire the best candidates, Walton argues in a paper slated for publication in the journal Social Issues and Policy Review with co-authors Steven J. Spencer of the University of Waterloo and Sam Erman of Harvard University.

Walton, an assistant professor of psychology, and Spencer plan to present their findings to the Supreme Court in an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case the justices are scheduled to hear next fall and that many court watchers believe threatens to upend affirmative action. (Supreme Court rules bar Erman, who was a recent Supreme Court clerk, from participating in the brief.)

“People have argued that affirmative action is consistent or is not consistent with meritocracy,” Walton said. “Our argument is not that it’s consistent or inconsistent. Our argument is that you need affirmative action to make meritocratic decisions – to get the best candidates.”

The researchers say that people often assume that measures of merit like grades and test scores are unbiased – that they reflect the same level of ability and potential for all students.

Under this assumption, when an ethnic-minority student and a non-minority student have the same high school grades, they probably have the same level of ability and are likely to do equally well in college. When a woman and a man have the same score on a math test, it’s assumed they have the same level of math ability.

The problem is that common school and testing environments create a different psychological experience for different students. This systematically disadvantages negatively stereotyped ethnic minority students like African Americans and Hispanic Americans, as well as girls and women in math and science.

“When people perform in standard school settings, they are often aware of negative stereotypes about their group,” Walton says. “Those stereotypes act like a psychological headwind – they cause people to perform worse. If you base your evaluation of candidates just on performance in settings that are biased, you end up discriminating.”

The conclusion comes out of research on what is called stereotype threat – the worry people have when they risk confirming a negative stereotype about their group. That worry prevents people from performing as well as they can, hundreds of studies have found.

As a consequence, Walton says, “Grades and test scores assessed in standard school settings underestimate the intellectual ability of students from negatively stereotyped groups and their potential to perform well in future settings.”

Walton gives an example of how stereotype threat relates to preferences in admissions or hiring.

A woman and a man each apply to an elite engineering program, he says. The man has slightly better SAT math scores than the woman. He gets accepted to the program, but she does not.

“If stereotype threat on the SAT undermined the woman’s performance and as a consequence caused her SAT score to underestimate her potential, then by not taking that bias into account, you have effectively discriminated against the woman,” Walton says.

Walton and his colleagues argue that schools need to take affirmative steps to level the playing field and to make meritocratic decisions. If the SAT underestimates women’s math ability or the ability of African American students, taking this into account will help schools both admit better candidates and more diverse ones.

While courts have ruled that diversity justifies taking race into account in admissions decisions, justices have not considered meritocracy as a reason for sorting by race.

“Our argument is that it is only by considering race that you can make meritocratic decisions,” Walton says. “It’s a separate argument from the diversity argument.”

Walton’s research provides the justices with another reason for upholding affirmative action.

But confronting legal questions is only part of the issue.

Walton says remedies need to be found in policy, as well. Environments need to be created that are fair and allow people to do well.

“The first step is for organizations to fix their own houses,” he says.

Testing officials should look at how they administer tests and ask what they can do to mitigate the psychological threats that are present in their settings that cause people to do poorly, Walton says.

Schools and employers, he continues, should look into their own internal environments and ask how they can make those environments safe and secure so everyone can do well and stereotypes are off the table.

But if stereotype threat was present in a prior environment, hiring and admissions decisions need to take that into account.

“In taking affirmative steps,” Walton, Spencer and Erman write, “organizations can promote meritocracy and diversity at once.”

The Citation: Walton, G. M., Spencer, S. J., & Erman, S. (in press). Affirmative meritocracy (pdf). Social Issues and Policy Review.

Related Situationist posts:

For a collection of previous Situationist posts discussing how situation influences standardized test scores, click here.

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Distribution, Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Ability

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 8, 2012

From Scott Barry Kaufman‘s Huffington Post post (1/9/12):

A bulk of research shows that when people are put in situations where they are expected to fail, their performance does plummet. They turn into different people. Their head literally shuts down, and they end up confirming the expectations. When they’re expected to win, their performance shoots back up. Same person, difference expectations.

In recent years, this phenomenon has been studied in a variety of high-stakes testing situations. One area that has received a lot of attention is in the domain of mental rotation. Out of all the gender differences in cognition that have been reported in psychological literature, 3D mental rotation ability takes the cake. While it’s true that there’s more variability within each gender than across genders, the differences on average between males and females on mental rotation tasks are notably large, in some cases as much as a full standard deviation. (That’s a big difference.)

Psychologists have been trying for years to figure out what factors are causing this difference. And there have been no shortage of speculations, ranging from purely biological explanations, to purely environmental factors, to middle-ground psychobiological views. While a number of different factors surely play a role, recent research suggests that the difference in performance may not have to do so much with actual ability, but perceptions of that ability.

People are aware of the stereotype that females have less aptitude at math and spatial skills than men. In fact, in one study almost half of the female participants endorsed this stereotype. This awareness matters. When asked to imagine themselves as a stereotypical male, females perform much better on a mental rotation task than when they are not given such an instruction. Additionally, when women are asked to report their gender before taking a mental rotation test, they perform much worse on the test than if they identify themselves as a “private college student.” This finding has been explained by “stereotype threat” — the tendency for members of a negatively stereotyped group to underperform on tasks relevant a culturally salient stereotype. According to this account, having females report their gender before taking the mental rotation task makes the cultural stereotype more salient to them, thus causing performance-reducing anxiety.

It’s intriguing how easily these effects can be nudged, for both males and females. In another important study, both men and women completed a test of mental rotation, and were then either informed that men do better on the task, or women do better on the task. The same participants then took another test of mental rotation. Women performed significantly worse after being told men do better on the task, whereas women who were told that women do better on the task performed significantly better at the very same task. Similarly, men performed better after being told that men are better at the task and performed worse after being told that women are better at the task. What we believe is true matters. To a very large extent, our beliefs create our own reality.

But what’s the psychological mechanism at play here? Some stereotype threat researchers have proposed that confidence is playing a key role here. Perhaps the stereotype threat is impacting confidence, and it is this decrease in confidence that is impacting performance. To test whether confidence explains the gender difference in mental rotation performance, Zachary Estes and Sydney Felker conducted four recent experiments. They administered the most common test of mental rotation, the Mental Rotations Test (MRT). In this test, participants are presented with one standard figure and four alternative figures. Two of the alternative figures are rotated versions of the standard figure, whereas the other two are mirror images of the standard figure. Here’s an example:

2011-12-16-Figure165.png

Their findings are quite striking. First it should be noted that confident people, regardless of their gender, tended to be more accurate. So confidence matters for everyone. They did find statistically significant gender effects though. Consistent with prior research, males on average were more confident and more accurate than women on the mental rotation test. Note these are only averages, there were women who were more confident and performed better than men. At any rate, when confidence was taken into account, the gender difference in mental rotation scores almost completely evaporated. This is quite impressive, considering there are very few studies showing that one variable can completely account for this very large gender difference.

Of course, it’s still not super clear whether it’s really confidence, and not mental rotation ability, that is causing the gender difference in mental rotation performance. To get to the bottom of this, the researchers manipulated confidence, keeping everything else the same. The way they manipulated confidence was quite clever. The way the task is typically administered, participants can omit responses. Research does show that females tend to offer fewer responses than males on the Mental Rotations Task. The researchers wondered whether the possibility of omitting responses makes confidence an important factor in performing on the task. When participants aren’t required to respond, their confidence becomes relevant to the task, but when participants are required to respond, confidence should have less of an effect on performance since the person doesn’t have to evaluate their confidence on each trial.

To test this possibility, one group took the Mental Rotations Test, but were allowed to omit trials whenever they wanted. In contrast, another group was required to respond on every single trial. While they found the typical gender difference using the standard instructions, males and females did not differ from each other when they were required to give an answer on each trial. These findings support the idea that the gender differences on this task is specifically related to confidence, not ability. Once participants were again required to rate their confidence levels on each trial, a gender difference once again emerged on the task.

Finally, the researchers manipulated confidence prior to the experiment. First they had participants complete a difficult line judgment task. Performance on this task was near chance for both males and females. After completing the task, participants were randomly told either that their performance was above average or it was below average. Then, participants completed the Mental Rotations Task. Regardless of gender, those who were told that their performance on the line judgement task was above average performed better on the mental rotation task than those who were told they performed below average on the task. As they found in their prior studies, males on average outperformed females on the Mental Rotation Task. However, there was no difference in performance between females in the higher confidence group and males in the low confidence group.

Taken together, the researchers conclude that “the sex difference in mental rotation appears to be a difference of performance rather than ability.” Their results are definitely intriguing since confidence explained such a large part of the gender difference in mental rotation performance. Of course, there’s probably no one single cause of the sex difference in mental rotation ability. As the researchers note, few investigations combine multiple levels of analysis. This integration is important.

One potential area of integration is working memory. Working memory reflects the ability to store information in your mind while simultaneously processing or transforming other information. A few years back, I conducted a study that found that spatial working memory, but not verbal working memory, explained the gender difference in spatial ability. I thought these findings were really interesting, as it suggested that the cause of the gender difference was very specific to the storage of spatial information while processing other information, but was not generalized to more general working memory resources. The researchers of the current study cite my study, and speculate that confidence may be related to working memory. I find this suggestion a real possibility. Research does show that stereotype threat reduces the working memory resources available for solving the task at hand. Perhaps many of us — male and female alike — when faced with threatening situations, have decreased confidence, which then lowers the working memory resources specific to the task at hand.

So what can we do as a society to give people more of a chance to display their true colors? The researchers offer the following advice:

Potentially effective methods for achieving this outcome include rejecting the negative stereotype that women have poor spatial skills, encouraging women to view spatial skills as learnable, encouraging females to engage in more spatial tasks, and providing positive feedback when they do so.

Sensible advice, but I think this is sensible advice for just about everyone — male and female — and for every form of ability — math, English, artistic, musical, whatever. So much research now shows the importance of mindset, self-belief and confidence on performance. I look forward to more research that integrates multiple levels of analysis.

So many important questions are still left to answer. What does confidence buy you? . . .

Read the rest of the post (with links) here.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Trystan.org.

Posted in Education, Emotions, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Sian Beilock and Allen McConnell on Stereotype Threat

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 27, 2011

Related Situationist posts:

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Stereotype Threat

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 11, 2011

From Wikipedia:

A stereotype threat is the experience of anxiety or concern in a situation where a person has the potential to confirm a negative stereotype about their social group. First developed by social psychologist Claude Steele and his colleagues, stereotype threat has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotyped groups. For example, stereotype threat can lower the intellectual performance of African-Americans taking the SAT, due to thestereotype that African-Americans are less intelligent than other groups.Since its introduction into the scientific literature in 1999, stereotype threat has become one of the most widely studied topics in the field of social psychology. Stereotype threat is often discussed as a potential contributing factor to long-standing racial and gender gaps in academic performance. However, stereotype threat may occur in any situation in which an individual has the potential of confirming a negative stereotype.

Related Situationist posts:

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Performing Under Pressure

Posted by Adam Benforado on September 22, 2010

Situationist friend Sian Beilock’s highly anticipated new book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, is now out.  As someone who has had both great successes and great failures under pressure, I’ve been very excited to read Choke since Sian first mentioned it to me.  What exactly happened in that 8th-grade piano recital when my mind went blank halfway through that Bach three-part invention?  Mom, I finally have an answer . . .

Here’s a description of the book:

It happens to all of us. You’ve prepared for days, weeks, even years for the big day when you will finally show your stuff—in academics, in your career, in sports—but when the big moment arrives, nothing seems to work. You hit the wrong note, drop the ball, get stumped by a simple question. In other words, you choke. It’s not fun to think about, but now there’s good news: This doesn’t have to happen.

In lively prose and accessibly rendered science, Beilock examines how attention and working memory guide human performance, how experience and practice and brain development interact to create our abilities, and how stress affects all these factors. She sheds new light on counter-intuitive realities, like why the highest performing people are most susceptible to choking under pressure, why we may learn foreign languages best when we’re not paying attention, why early childhood athletic training can backfire, and how our emotions can make us both smarter and dumber. All these fascinating findings about academic, athletic, and creative intelligence come together in Beilock’s new ideas about performance under pressure—and her secrets to never choking again. Whether you’re at the Olympics, in the boardroom, or taking the SAT, Beilock’s clear, prescriptive guidance shows how to remain cool under pressure—the key to performing well when everything’s on the line.

Dr. Sian Beilock, an expert on performance and brain science, reveals in Choke the astonishing new science of why we all too often blunder when the stakes are high. What happens in our brain and body when we experience the dreaded performance anxiety? And what are we doing differently when everything magically “clicks” into place and the perfect golf swing, tricky test problem, or high-pressure business pitch becomes easy? In an energetic tour of the latest brain science, with surprising insights on every page, Beilock explains the inescapable links between body and mind; reveals the surprising similarities among the ways performers, students, athletes, and business people choke; and shows how to succeed brilliantly when it matters most.

Read an excerpt from Choke here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Social Psychologists Discuss Stereotype Threat,” Stereotype Threat and Performance,” Your Group is Bad at Math,” “The Bar Exam Situation,” “A (Situationist) Body of Thought,” and The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers.’

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Life, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Stereotype Threat

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 19, 2010

Randy Khalil has a nice article, “‘Stereotype threat’ negatively affects students,” in Wednesday’s Daily Princetonian.  Here are some excerpts.
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Princeton students fall victim to the “stereotype threat,” according to a study led by Adam Alter GS ’09.

The “stereotype threat” is the phenomenon in which reminding people of negative stereotypes associated with their group identity can encourage the fulfillment of those stereotypes.

“When reminded of their group membership, for example, white people struggle athletically, black people struggle academically, women struggle mathematically and men struggle linguistically,” Alter explained in an e-mail. Alter wanted to find out if the way that people are reminded of their group membership determines the magnitude of this effect.

Alter examined the stereotype which holds that students from high schools with low representation at the University feel more unsure about their academic ability when they arrive as freshmen than students from high schools that send many students to Princeton. In a survey of 19 undergraduates, 16 said that students from poorly represented high schools are more anxious about their academic ability than other students.

In Alter’s experiment, which tested 124 students, those from poorly represented high schools performed worse than those from highly represented high schools when the test was presented as a “reliable measure of [their] basic quantitative ability,” according to the study. When the test was presented as a measure of students’ ability to “do as well as [they possibly could],” however, the gap between students from different high schools disappeared.

Alter concluded from the experiment that the presentation of a test as either a “threat” or a “challenge” determines whether negative stereotypes are fulfilled.

“People cope much better with challenges than with threats, so we expected the effects of a stereotype threat to be diminished or eliminated when we framed the threat as a challenge,” Alter explained.

Psychology professor [and Situationist Contributor] Susan Fiske said that Alter’s research adds nuance to the current understanding of stereotype threats.

“What is new here is Alter’s finding ways to overcome stereotype threat by framing the problem as a challenge instead of a threat,” Fiske said in an e-mail.

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Posted in Abstracts, Education, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Social Psychologists Discuss Stereotype Threat

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 5, 2009

Classroom RedAmber Tunnell has an article in the Columbia Spectator describing a recent talk given by social psychologist (and Columbia Provost) Claude Steele about his pathbreaking work on stereotype threat.  Here are some excerpts.

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Two problems launched Steele’s career, he said: the underperformance of women and minority students on cognitive tests in academic settings, and what he called the “diversity problem,” or the difficulty that arises when trying to make a situation comfortable for everyone, while at the same time integrating different groups.

“Everyone experiences a stereotype a couple times a day,” Steele said, highlighting the thrust of his speech.

“Identity contingencies,” he said, are the identity questions central to daily existence. For example, Steele said he developed an identity contingency the moment he first discovered he was black. “If you have to deal with things in situations because you have a certain identity, that identity will be important to you,” he said.

“Most psychologically impactful identity contingencies are those that in some way threaten the individual,” he said, while explaining that “stereotype threat” is the most important identity contingency.

Steele then described the experiments he conducted to gauge stereotype threat in schools. One discussed female performance on math tests. In this experiment, psychologists gave mathematically-adept, high-school level men and women a difficult math test. The results showed that women performed much worse than the men because they “experienced a different type of frustration” when faced with difficult problems. As the women became frustrated, they grappled with the fear of conforming to a gender stereotype, while the men were unaffected. The psychologists then conducted the experiment again and they told the subjects that women generally perform well on this specific test, and the women’s scores increased dramatically.

Steele then asked, “What makes the threat really stronger and what makes it weak?”

Steele said that “people that show this effect the most are the strongest. . . . They are the ones that care the most . . . , have the most skills . . . , the ones that try too hard.”

“Identity threat is intrinsic to most diverse settings” and it is “the default state of affairs unless something is done to reduce it,” Steele said. “Some level and salience of identity safety cues in a setting can foster trust even when other cues in the setting might suggest otherwise,” he added optimistically.

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To watch news report about very interesting research by Sian Beilock and Allen McConnell building off of Claude Steele’s work, click on the video below.

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For a sample of related Situationst post “A Rose by any other Name Might Become a Judge,” The Gendered Situation of Chess,” The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situational Bind,” The Situation of Gender and Science,Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & Math,” Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of the Law School Classroom – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 21, 2009

Law School ClassroomRobert Chang and Adrienne Davis have posted their interesting article, “Making Up is Hard to Do: Race/Gender/Sexual Orientation in the Law School Classroom” (forthcoming Harvard Journal of Law and Gender (2009)) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This exchange of letters picks up where Professors Adrienne Davis and Robert Chang left off in an earlier exchange that examined who speaks, who is allowed to speak, and what is remembered. Here, Professors Davis and Chang explore the dynamics of race, gender, and sexual orientation in the law school classroom. They compare the experiences of African American women and Asian American men in trying to perform as law professors, considering how makeup and other gender tools simultaneously assist and hinder such performances. Their exchange examines the possibility of bias that complicates the use of student evaluations in assessing teaching effectiveness. It hypothesizes that the mechanism by which this bias manifests itself is a variant of stereotype threat, one that they call projected stereotype threat, where stereotypes of incompetence or accent are projected onto the bodies of teachers marked by difference. They examine how institutions respond or, as is more typically the case, fail to respond to these problems. They conclude with some suggestions for change, asserting that if institutions want to pay more than lip service to the goal of diversity, the success and employment conditions of women and minorities will improve only through the hiring of more women and minorities and by addressing directly the issue of bias to educate students about bias and its discriminatory effects on instructors whose bodies are marked by perceived differences and how such bias interferes with their learning.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Banning Laptops in the Classroom – Abstract,” “The Situational Benefits of Outsiders,” and “Some Situational Sources and Consequences of Diversity.”

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Law | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Gendered Situation of Chess

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 10, 2009

Woman Chess PlayerFrom ChessBase News:  “Normally knowing your enemy is an advantage. Not so in chess games between the sexes. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 2 (March/April 2008) (pdf here), Anne Maass, Claudio D’Ettole, Mara Cadinu, Dr Anne Maass (et al.) pitted male and female players against each other via the Internet. Women showed a 50% performance decline when they were aware that they were playing a male opponent.”  Here’s the article’s abstract.

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Women are surprisingly underrepresented in the chess world, representing less that 5% of registered tournament players worldwide and only 1% of the world’s grandmasters. In this paper it is argued that gender stereotypes are mainly responsible for the underperformance of women in chess. Forty-two male-female pairs, matched for ability, played two chess games via the Internet. When players were unaware of the sex of opponent (control condition), females played approximately as well as males. When the gender stereotype was activated (experimental condition), women showed a drastic performance drop, but only when they were aware that they were playing against a male opponent. When they (falsely) believed to be playing against a woman, they performed as well as their male opponents. In addition, our findings suggest that women show lower chess-specific self-esteem and a weaker promotion focus, which are predictive of poorer chess performance.

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Here’s the article’s conclusion.

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A number of novel findings emerge from the present study that complement cognitively-oriented research on chess. Most importantly, gender stereotypes can have a greatly debilitating effect on female players leading to a 50% performance decline when playing against males. Interestingly, this disadvantage is completely removed when players are led to believe that they are playing against a woman. This may, in part, occur because women choose a more defensive style when playing with men.

A second and more general message of our study is that self-confidence and a win-oriented promotion motivation contribute positively to chess performance. Since women show lower chess-specific self-esteem and a more cautious regulatory focus than males, possibly as a consequence of widely held gender stereotypes, this may at least in part explain their worldwide underrepresentation and underperformance in chess.

Thus, women seem disadvantaged not because they are lacking cognitive or spatial abilities, but because they approach chess competitions with lesser confidence and with a more cautious attitude than their male opponents. Hence, a motivational perspective may be better suited to understand (and prevent) the underperformance of women in the ‘ultimate intellectual sport.’

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You can dowload the entire article here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes,” The Situation of Gender and Science,Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & Math,” Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Situational Effects of a Black President

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 8, 2009

Little Obama FanLast week for Diverse Online, Angela Dodson, wrote an excellent review of conflicting studies regarding the so-called “Obama Effect” — the increase in standardized test scores of Blacks owing to the election of Barack Obama.  Here are some excerpts.

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Could merely knowing that a Black man has been elected president of the United States raise the scores of Blacks on standardized tests and shrink the unrelenting and formidable achievement gap? Possibly, suggests a recent study documenting the “Obama Effect” that will appear in the July issue of a scientific journal along side a study that contradicts it.

Preliminary results of a study suggesting that Barack Obama’s political success translated into a narrower gap between Blacks and Whites on a standardized tests in 2008 attracted both optimism and skepticism when it was reported around the time of his inauguration.

It offered hope that an affirming role model and positive feelings could patch the gap between Whites and Blacks long documented in almost every measure of academic performance. Media reports have suggested that parents and educators see ample anecdotal evidence that Obama’s example has inspired Black students to take schoolwork more seriously.

When one team of researchers tested Blacks and Whites at four intervals at the peak of the 2008 election year, median scores for the two groups shifted, significantly narrowing the spread after Obama’s election, according to the results announced earlier by the researchers, Dr. Ray A. Friedman of Vanderbilt University, Dr. David Marx of San Diego State University and Dr. Sei Jin Ko of Northwestern University.

However, a study by Dr. Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of applied psychology of New York University, one of the pioneers of research on race and academic achievement, and colleagues found, “Test scores were unaffected by prompts to think about Obama and no relationship was found between test performance and positive thoughts about Obama.” The findings were based on a test administered after Obama emerged as the Democratic nominee last summer but were only recently noted in the news media.

Ironically, Friedman had not expected to find a difference but did. Aronson said he expected to find one and did not.

“I found not even a shred of evidence,” Aronson told Diverse. “I did not expect a full closing of the gap, because I think the gap is about many things, but I did expect to find something … It just was not there.”

The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology will publish both studies, along with two other papers on the effects of Obama’s election. The articles are already available online.

Even if the “Obama Effect” proves to have only a small effect, Friedman told Diverse, “the underlying impact of Black/White differences in scores is so fundamentally important that any small shift is going to be beneficial for the country.”

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Aronson, often along with Claude Steele, the noted Stanford University social psychologist, has conducted numerous studies on how the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s group depresses the performance of Black, Hispanic, and female college students. They identified this phenomenon known as “stereotype threat” in a 1995 study. Friedman cited their work in his article.

Earlier studies have shown that asking a participant’s race, ethnicity and gender and implying that the tests were an important measure of intellectual abilities can lower scores but that introducing a positive role model into the testing situation can raise them. Some researchers have found, for instance, that having a math test administered by a strong female role model significantly boosts girls’ scores on a math tests, overcoming stereotypes about women’s abilities.

Although Aronson did not find an Obama effect last year, he said he plans to conduct another test this summer. “I believe if we play up the struggles of Obama, rather than his greatness, we will see an effect.”

The NYU researcher believes that one reason scores might not have been affected is that Obama is seen as so naturally gifted, as opposed to having had to work hard to become so talented, that he is not the kind of role model that has proven effective in earlier research.

“Perhaps his abilities are so stellar that the typical student cannot confidently conclude that ‘if Obama can succeed, so can I,’” the Aronson report said.

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“We have captured the critical time, which was the transition before and after Obama, which of course can never be done again,” he said. “But I think there are going to be a lot of studies as to what impact Obama could have and what families can do. Maybe it’s that before your kid goes out to take the SAT you could give him a book on Obama.”

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To read the entire article, click here.

To read some related Situationist posts, see Stereotype Lift – The Obama Effect,” Stereotype Threat and Exit Exams,” The Situation of the Achievement Gap,” Sexism: The Worst Part Is Not Knowing,” “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Baseketball” “The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers,’ “The Gendered Situation of Science and Math,” “Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

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Stereotype Threat and Exit Exams

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 2, 2009

test-prep-booksLast month Mitchell Landsberg had an interesting article, titled “High school exit exam hinders female and non-white students, study says,” in the Los Angeles Times.  Here are some excerpts.

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California’s high school exit exam is keeping disproportionate numbers of girls and non-whites from graduating, even when they are just as capable as white boys, according to a study released [last week]. It also found that the exam, which became a graduation requirement in 2007, has “had no positive effect on student achievement.”

The study by researchers at Stanford University and UC Davis concluded that girls and non-whites were probably failing the exit exam more often than expected because of what is known as “stereotype threat,” a theory in social psychology that holds, essentially, that negative stereotypes can be self-fulfilling. In this case, researcher Sean Reardon said, girls and students of color may be tripped up by the expectation that they cannot do as well as white boys.

Reardon said there was no other apparent reason why girls and non-whites fail the exam more often than white boys, who are their equals in other, lower-stress academic assessments. Reardon, an associate professor of education at Stanford, urged the state Department of Education to consider either scrapping the exit exam . . . or looking at ways of intervening to help students perform optimally. Reardon said the exam is keeping as many as 22,500 students a year from graduating who would otherwise fulfill all their requirements.

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To read the entire piece, click here.  For some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of the Achievement Gap” and the many links there to other posts about the effects of stereotype threat.

Posted in Education | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of the Achievement Gap

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 20, 2009

ClassroomSituationist Contributor Geoffrey Cohen has received a lot of attention in the media over the last week because of fascinating research he and his collaborators are doing and reently desribed in Science regarding one way to help reduce the achievement gap in education.

Here are excerpts from one such story, this one, titled “Study: Writing About Values Boosts Grades, Shrinks Achievement Gap,”  by Lea Winerman for Online NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.

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A short self-affirming writing exercise that took only about an hour of class time boosted struggling black junior high school students’ grade point average by nearly half a point over two years, according to a new study.  The surprising result, published this week in the journal Science, suggests a new way to combat the persistent achievement gap in grades, test scores and graduation rates between black and white students, according to the researchers. “The intervention is relatively brief, but it’s powerful in a lot of ways,” says [Situationist Contributor] Geoffrey Cohen, a social psychologist at the University of Colorado. Cohen and his colleagues followed more than 400 seventh-grade students at a suburban public school in Connecticut.

The school’s population was about half black and half white. In a series of 15-minute writing assignments, the researchers asked half of the students to complete a self-affirming exercise: to choose from a list of values — such as relationships with friends and family, athletic ability and smarts — and write about the value most important to them. A control group was asked to write about why the values they ranked as unimportant might matter to someone else. In early results published in 2006, the researchers found that the exercise reduced the achievement gap between black and white students by 40 percent over one term. Researchers said the exercises benefitted low-achieving black students the most, while they appeared to have little impact on white students or already high-achieving black students.

In the new study, Cohen and his colleagues tracked the students until the end of eighth grade. They found that the benefits for low-achieving black students continued for the entire two years — students who completed the self-affirmation exercise raised their GPA by four-tenths of a point compared to the control group. They were also less likely to need remedial work or to repeat a grade — 5 percent as compared to 18 percent of the control group. The intervention continued to have no effect on white students and high-achieving black students.

That such a small intervention could have such big effects “surprises most people to the point that some people I know didn’t believe the initial finding,” says psychologist Richard Nisbett, an expert on achievement and intelligence at the University of Michigan. “But what makes it believable to me is that, as a social psychologist, I’ve learned that ‘dinky’ things sometimes have big effects.”

The exercise is based on a tenet of psychological research called stereotype threat. Previous studies have found that when people are reminded of negative stereotypes about their racial, gender or other group, the stress of worrying about confirming those stereotypes can negatively affect their performance. The self-affirmation exercise, by reminding students about what is really important to them, could help reduce that stress, the researchers suggest. And by timing the intervention to occur at a crucial period such as the beginning of middle school, Cohen says, the benefits could compound.

“Performance is recursive,” he says. “If you start off at something and you’re stressed and do badly, then that makes you do worse the next time. And that seems to happen a lot in middle school, where you see this downward spiral [...] By just tweaking [the students] a bit you could set them on a totally different trajectory.”

But Cohen added the intervention is not a panacea to solve all students’ educational woes. “We have no illusions that this is a silver bullet,” he says, “our philosophy is that the more positive forces in a child’s life, the better. That includes good teachers, good homes [...] and then also psychological interventions.”

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To read the entire article, click here.  For related Situationsist posts, see “Stereotype Lift – The Obama Effect,” “Sexism: The Worst Part Is Not Knowing,” “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Baseketball” “The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers,’ “The Gendered Situation of Science and Math,” “Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Education, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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