Stereotype threat is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the risk of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s group as a self-characteristic. This concept was first introduced by Steele and Aronson in 1995, and their experiments demonstrated that Black college students performed more poorly on standardized tests when their race was emphasized while performing just as well as White students when it was not. These results highlighted how awareness of a negative stereotype can harm one’s performance in academic contexts and ultimately lead to the perpetuation of these stereotypes.
However, Steele and Aronson were not the first researchers to observe the effects of stereotype threat. Katz, Roberts, and Robinson had previously reported similar findings in 1965, but Steele and Aronson’s 1995 paper led to a renewed interest in studying the causes and consequences of stereotype threat. Since then, more than 300 experiments on this topic have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and meta-analyses by Nguyen & Ryan (2008) and Walton & Cohen (2003) have confirmed the prevalence and impact of stereotype threat across different groups and contexts.
Despite the extensive research on stereotype threat, it remains a pervasive issue in society, affecting not only academic performance but also other domains such as employment, healthcare, and criminal justice. For example, women and minorities may experience stereotype threats in male-dominated fields, leading to underrepresentation and a lack of diversity in these industries. Similarly, individuals from low-income backgrounds may face stereotype threats in educational settings, which can perpetuate cycles of poverty and inequality.
Since Steele and Aronson’s (1995) seminal paper on stereotype threat, research in this field has significantly broadened our understanding of its consequences and impact. One important finding is that the effects of stereotype threat extend far beyond underperformance on academic tasks. For instance, it can also lead individuals to adopt self-handicapping strategies, such as reducing their practice time for a given task (Stone, 2002), or to feel less connected to the domain that is being stereotyped (Good, Dweck, & Rattan, 2008). Moreover, persistent exposure to stereotype threat may cause individuals to devalue the domain altogether, resulting in a limited range of professions and social inequalities (Good et al., 2008a; Schmader, Johns, & Barquissau, 2004).
Furthermore, research has revealed that stereotype threat can affect performance across a wide range of domains, including sports, negotiations, childcare, and driving. It can harm anyone whose situation invokes a stereotype-based expectation of poor performance, such as Hispanics (Gonzales, Blanton, & Williams, 2002; Schmader & Johns, 2003), students from low socioeconomic backgrounds (Croizet & Claire, 1998), females in math (Good, Aronson, & Harder, 2008; Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev, 2000; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999), and even white males who face the stereotype of Asian superiority in math (Aronson, Lustina, Good, Keogh, Steele, & Brown, 1999; Stone, Lynch, Sjomerling, & Darley, 1999).
Finally, research has shown that the degree of vulnerability to stereotype threat may vary within a stereotyped group. Factors such as the strength of one’s group or domain identification have been found to be related to one’s susceptibility to the negative consequences of stereotype threat. This knowledge is crucial to designing interventions to help reduce the impact of stereotype threat and its contribution to social inequality.
Stereotype threat research has expanded its scope to include the identification of situations that are more likely to lead to stereotype threat. Typically, stereotype threat arises in conditions where a highlighted stereotype implicates the self through association with a relevant social category (Marx & Stapel, 2006b; Marx, Stapel, & Muller, 2005). Performance may be hampered when one views oneself in terms of a salient group membership (for example, “I am a woman, and women are not expected to excel in math, and this is a difficult math test”). Thus, situations that increase the salience of the stereotyped group identity can intensify vulnerability to stereotype threat.
Researchers and practitioners are particularly interested in the mechanisms behind stereotype threat. Specifically, how do negative stereotypes lead to the observed consequences? Although the research is not entirely conclusive on this matter, we are gaining a better understanding of the moderators and mediators of stereotype threat. For instance, recent research has indicated that stereotype threat can diminish working memory resources, ultimately undermining an individual’s ability to successfully complete complex intellectual tasks (Schmader & Johns, 2003).
As stereotype threat has been identified as a harmful factor impacting the achievements and identities of stereotyped individuals, researchers have focused on exploring strategies to mitigate its negative effects. These approaches vary from comprehensive interventions aimed at educating students about the fluidity of intelligence (e.g., Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002) to straightforward adjustments in classroom procedures that can be easily implemented by the teacher, such as implementing gender-neutral testing methods (Good, Aronson, & Harder, 2008; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999).
Getting help with therapy has become easier than ever before thanks to the emergence of online telehealth services. For those who may experience stereotype threat in traditional in-person therapy settings, online telehealth can provide a more comfortable and accessible environment to receive the help they need. This can be especially beneficial for individuals who may not have access to therapy in their local area or may not feel comfortable seeking help in a traditional setting due to social or cultural barriers. Online telehealth services can also be more flexible in terms of scheduling, making it easier for busy individuals to fit therapy into their lives. By removing some of the potential barriers to accessing therapy, online telehealth can be an effective tool for combating the negative effects of stereotype threat on mental health and well-being.
In conclusion, stereotype threat is a pervasive issue that can have significant negative effects on individuals’ performance, sense of belonging, and long-term outcomes. However, research has broadened our understanding of this phenomenon, including who is most vulnerable to it and the situations that are most likely to lead to its activation. Furthermore, researchers have identified various methods for reducing its negative effects, including interventions to teach individuals about the malleable nature of intelligence and simple changes to classroom practices. As we continue to learn more about stereotype threat, it is essential to prioritize efforts to mitigate its effects and create an inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals, regardless of their social identities. By doing so, we can promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in various domains, including education and the workplace.