Hazards of Testing for the Stereotyped: Ethnic Context and Gender Affect Stereotype Threat Disidentification Performance

Sloan, Lloyd
Glenn, Michael
Starr, B. James
Howard University
Lockett, Charles
James Madison University

Modern psychological education paradigms rely heavily on standardized testing. This is true especially in major milestone requirements such as comprehensive examinations and in entrance examinations to the next higher educational endeavor. This research examines one exceptional hazard to students whose group (ethnic, national, gender) may be negatively stereotyped in the test’s performance domain.

Recent research on Stereotype Threat is based on the theory that taking a challenging, ability-diagnostic test related to known negative stereotypes of one’s group may increase stereotype awareness and produce additional performance anxiety, degrading actual test performance (Steele and Aronson, 1995). Subsequent findings indicate that while such diagnostic testing arouses minority stereotype awareness in outgroup (majority) contexts, it doesn’t in exclusively minority settings. Early performance results follow the same pattern, suggesting that the occurrence of stereotype threat decrements may require some form of out-group presence in addition to stereotype relevant content testing.

An African-American university’s students (n=111) received challenging verbal (SAT) tests described as individually Diagnostic or Nondiagnostic by white experimenters or minority experimenters.

White experimenter’s (standard instructions) produced familiar stereotype threat performance decrements while minority experimenter’s didn’t, suggesting that outgroup cues are required. Men, but not women, showed performance drops in Black contexts but that pattern was reversed in interracial settings. Stereotype avoidance and self-handicapping results paralleled those differential performance findings, suggesting that same race-versus-interracial ethnic test setting composition may have induced different (race and/or gender) stereotype threats and possible divergent domain disidentification for the two genders.