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Michael Inzlicht

A Threat in the Air How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance ARTICLE ABSTRACT A general theory of domain identification is used to describe achievement barriers still faced by women in advanced quantitative areas and by African Americans in school. - The theory assumes that sustained school success requires identification with school and its subdomains; that societal pressures on these groups (e.g., economic disadvantage, gender roles) can frustrate this identification; and that in school domains where these groups are negatively stereotyped, those who have become domain identified face the further barrier of stereotype threat, the threat that others' judgments or their own actions will negatively stereotype them in the domain. - Research shows that this threat dramatically depresses the standardized test performance of women and African Americans who are in the academic vanguard of their groups (offering a new interpretation of group differences in standardized test performance), that it causes disidentification with school, and that practices that reduce this threat can reduce these negative effects. - The theoretical focus is on how societal stereotypes about groups can influence the intellectual functioning and identity development of individual group members. o To show the generality of these processes and their relevance to important outcomes, this theory is applied to two groups: 1. African Americans who must contend with negative stereotypes about their abilities in many scholastic domains 2. Women, who must do so primarily in math and the physical sciences. - The theory begins with an assumption: o that to sustain school success one must be identified with school achievement in the sense of its being a part of one's self-definition, a personal identity to which one is self evaluatively accountable. o This accountability--that good self-feelings depend in some part on good achievement-- translates into sustained achievement motivation. the domain--- is one that has the interests, skills, resources, and opportunities to prosper there, as well as that one belongs there in the sense of being accepted and valued in the domain. - If this relationship to schooling does not form or gets broken, achievement may suffer. o basic question: What in the experience of these groups might frustrate their identification with all or certain aspects of school achievement? - One must surely turn first to social structure: o Limits on educational access that have been imposed on these groups by socioeconomic disadvantage, segregating social practices, and restrictive cultural orientations, limits of both historical and ongoing effect. By diminishing one's educational prospects, these limitations (e.g., inadequate resources, few role models, preparational disadvantages) should make it more difficult to identify with academic domains. To continue in math for example, a woman might have to buck the low expectations of teachers, family, and societal gender roles in which math is seen as unfeminine as well as anticipate spending her entire professional life in a male-dominated world. o Article focus on a further barrier It is the social-psychological threat that arises when one is in a situation or doing something for which a negative stereotype about one's group applies. This predicament threatens one with being negatively stereotyped, with being judged or treated stereotypically, or with the prospect of conforming to the stereotype. Called stereotype threat it is a situational threat--a threat in the air--that, in general form, can affect the members of any group about whom a negative stereotype exists (e.g., skateboarders, older adults, White men, gang members). For those who identify with the domain to which the stereotype is relevant, this predicament can be self-threatening. - Negative stereotypes about women and African Americans bear on important academic abilities o In several ways, it hampers their achievement. o First, if the threat is experienced in the midst of a domain performance--classroom presentation or testtaking, for example o Second, when this threat becomes chronic in a situation, as for the woman who spends considerable time in a competitive, male-oriented math environment it can pressure disidentification, a reconceptualization of the self and of one's values so as to remove the domain as a self-identity, as a basis of self-evaluation. Disidentification offers the retreat of not caring about the domain in relation to the self. But as it protects in this way, it can undermine sustained motivation in the domain, an adaptation that can be costly when the domain is as important as schooling. - Ironically, their susceptibility to this threat derives not from internal doubts about their ability (e.g., their internalization of the stereotype) but from their identification with the domain and the resulting concern they have about being stereotyped in it. - THUS, o one should focus on the feasible task of rifting this situational threat rather than on altering their internal psychology - Those students, not about the domain vis-a-vis the self, are likely to underperform in it regardless of whether they are stereotype threatened there. o Thus, although the identified among these groups are likely to underperform only under stereotype threat, the unidentified (casualties of sociocultural disadvantage or prior internalization of stereotype threat) are likely to underperform and not persist in the domain even when stereotype threat has been removed. o In these ways, then, the present analysis sees social structure and stereotypes as shaping the academic identifies and performance outcomes of large segments of society. Study Stats There have been encouraging increases in the number of African Americans completing high school or its equivalence in recent years: 77% for Black students versus 83% for White students (American Council on Education, 1995-1996). And there have been modest advances in the number of African American high school graduates enrolling in college, although these have not been as substantial as in other groups (American Council on Education, 1995- 1996). Perhaps most discouraging has been the high dropout rate for African American college students: Those who do not finish college within six years is 62%, compared with a national dropout rate of 41% On predominantly White campuses, Black students are also underrepresented in math and the natural sciences. Although historically Black colleges and universities now enroll only 17% of the nation's Black college students, they produce 42% of all Black BS degrees in natural science (Culotta & Gibbons, 1992). At the graduate level, although Black women have recently shown modest gains in PhDs received, the number awarded to Black men has declined over the past decade more than for any other subgroup in society (American Council on Education, 1995-1996). Women clearly thrive in many areas of schooling. But in math, engineering, and the physical sciences, they often endure lesser outcomes than men. In a metaanalysis involving over 3 million participants, Hyde, Fennema, and Lamon (1990), for example, found that through elementary and middle school, there are virtually no differences between boys and girls in performance on standardized math tests but that a trend toward men doing better steadily increases from high school and into adulthood And, as their college careers begin, women leave these fields at a rate two and a half times that of men. - These inequities have compelled explanations ranging from the sociocultural to the genetic. In the case of African Americans, for example, past and ongoing socioeconomic disadvantage, cultural orientations o through singular and accumulated effect, could undermine their performance. In the case of women's performance in math and the physical sciences, there are parallel arguments: structural and cultural gender role constraints that shunt women away from these areas; culturally rooted expectations Several findings lead away from these analyses above as fully sufficient. - For one thing o minority student achievement gaps persist even in the middle and upper socioeconomic classes o Using data from the Coleman report and SAT scores, Miller (1995, 1996) found that the gaps in academic performance (grades as well as standardized test scores) between Whites and non-Asian minorities (e.g., African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans) were as large, or la
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