Activate Women’s, Minorities’ Stereotype Threat Reactance to Enhance Performance

Claude Steele

Claude Steele

Stereotype threat, defined as activating prevailing but often-inaccurate concepts of a group’s typical behavior, was consistently associated with reduced scores on standardized test performance for women and African Americans in numerous studies by Stanford’s Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson now of NYU.

Joshua Aronson

They found that eliciting “reactance” or resistance to these stereotypes improved women’s and African Americans’ performance more than activating a positive shared identity, such as shared membership in a respected group.

Anthony Greenwald

Anthony Greenwald

Stereotypes may be invoked by implicit primes, which led both men and women to confirm gender stereotypes even when they explicitly disavowed stereotypes and associated prejudice, found University of Washington’s Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji, then at Yale.
However, when evaluators focused on tasks, including judgment challenges about members of a stereotyped group, judges were less likely to render discriminatory decisions.

Laura Kray

Laura Kray

In contrast, both women and men showed stereotype reactance — the tendency to behave in contrast with the stereotype in negotiation tasks — when stereotypes were elicited with explicit primes, reported University of California, Berkeley’s Laura Kray, Leigh Thompson of Northwestern and Columbia’s Adam Galinsky.

Stereotype threat can be advantageous to men when negotiating with women, who are stereotypically considered less skillful negotiators.
Unlike Steele’s finding, Kray’s team observed performance-equalizing effects of activating a shared identity that transcended gender.

Gordon Moskowitz

Gordon Moskowitz

People can dissociate themselves from prevailing stereotypes with contrast primes, according to Lehigh University’s Gordon B. Moskowitz and Ian W. Skurnik of University of Utah.
They differentiated:

Standard-of-Comparison Prime, which produces greatest contrast by citing an extreme illustration.
This strategy relies on perception and requires less cognitive effort.

-Set–Reset Prime, which typically uses trait descriptions, and produces greatest contrast when moderate rather than extreme.
This approach requires significant mental effort.

Ryan P. Brown

Ryan P. Brown

Even men are not immune to stereotype threat.
Male participants “choked” when performing after a positive male stereotype was activated by University of Oklahoma’s Ryan P. Brown and Robert A. Josephs of University of Texas. 
Similar to women’s performance decrements in response to negative stereotype threat, Brown and Josephs hypothesized that men’s performance was undermined by “pressure to live up to the standard.”

Robert A Josephs

Robert A Josephs

People can manage stereotype threat by explicitly referring to the stereotype to activate reactance.
In addition, it’s valuable to refer to a shared identity that transcends the stigmatized group identity.
Eliciting contrast effects through examples and trait descriptions is another way to diminish the impact of stereotype threat of performance.

  • How do you manage stereotype threat for yourself and others?
  • How effective have you found activating stereotype reactance?


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©Kathryn Welds


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