The theory of Stereotype Threat (ST) predicts that, when widely accepted stereotypes allege a group’s intellectual inferiority, fears of confirming these stereotypes cause individuals in the group to underperform relative to their true ability and knowledge. There are now hundreds of published studies purporting to document an impact for ST on the performance of women and racial minorities in a range of situations. This article reviews the literature on stereotype threat, focusing especially on studies investigating the influence of ST in the context of gender. It concludes that there is currently no justification for concluding that ST explains women’s underperformance compared to men on standardized tests of mathematics ability, or in scientific fields more generally. The current experimental literature provides no information about the magnitude of ST’s influence relative to other possible causes of gender or race disparities in academic performance generally, or in women’s underperformance in math more specifically. Existing studies are fully consistent with a minimal role for ST in accounting for observed patterns. In addition, there are unexplained inconsistencies and puzzles in the ST literature that further undercut the possibility of drawing firm conclusions about the magnitude of ST effects or the importance of ST to observed group disparities. The article concludes by proposing new ST research methodology that would help to address unanswered questions about the significance of ST as compared to other possible causes of observed gaps. These modifications would allow researchers more precisely to measure the magnitude of ST effects, and thus to determine whether ST accounts for all, most, some, or only a little of observed racial and gender performance differences on standardized tests of verbal and mathematical ability.
Wax, Amy L., "Stereotype Threat: a Case of Overclaim Syndrome?" (2009). Faculty Scholarship at Penn Law. 207.
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