This article was published by Scientific American and was written by Geoffrey L. Cohen, Julio Garcia and Ferris Jabr on May 22nd, 2013
In this month’s Scientific American science writer Ed Yong explores new research on stereotype threat—the fear of confirming derogatory stereotypes about one’s social group. Such anxiety can undermine people’s performance in school, sports and the workplace. A girl in an advanced math class, for example, might worry that she will not test as well as the boys, because of the stereotype that boys are better at math. Her concerns might distract her and tax her mental resources so that she performs below her abilities. Similarly, a young white basketball player might play poorly because he is worried that he is not as skilled as his African-American peers. Stereotype threat is one of the explanations for certain achievement gaps.
In recent years researchers have developed surprisingly simple and brief interventions that seem to thwart stereotype threat in actual classrooms. Such interventions include hour-long essay-writing assignments, in which students reflect on what matters to them—boosting their positive self-image and making them resilient against prejudice—or read surveys of older students emphasizing that everyone has difficulty fitting in at first but eventually make friends. In the following essay Geoffrey Cohen and Julio Garcia of Stanford University address current efforts to scale up these interventions to statewide education programs.
Social-Psychological Interventions: Solving the Scaling-Up Problem
Stereotype threat research has shown that intellectual performance is more malleable than previously thought. Subtle changes in the way a test is presented, for instance, can lead to dramatic differences in student performance….