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Chapter 3

PSYC12H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 3: Sympathetic Nervous System, Cingulate Cortex, Anterior Cingulate Cortex

Course Code
Michael Inzlicht

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Summary of how situation of stereotype threat set in motion both automatic processes that activate a sense of
uncertainty and cue increased vigilance toward the situation, one’s performance and oneself; as well as
controlled processes aimed at interpreting and regulating the resulting negative thoughts and feelings that the
negative stereotype can induce
By articulating the integration of these component cognitive and emotional processes, we are then able to
identify how policy changes and interventions can combat stereotype threat both by facilitating changes to
people’s stereotypes and by providing individuals with the tools they need to better cope with the threat
Both anxiety and negative stereotype activation are overly simplistic explanations for stereotype threat
Involves both cognitive and affective components and engages both automatic and controlled processes
Schmader, Johns and Forbes (2008) outlined an integration of processes that underlie stereotype threat
This chapter summarizes some of what we know about the ways in which stereotypes threat reduces
performance by focusing specifically on articulating the automatic and controlled effects stemming from the
experience of being targeted by negative stereotypes
Stereotype Threat is What Stereotype Threat Does
Stereotype Threat concern that one might inadvertently confirm an unwanted belief about one’s group
Those who experience stereotype threat have a motivation to avoid enacting any behavior that might be seen
as stereotypical
o E.g. blacks anticipating having their intelligence assessed report less liking for stereotypically black music
and sports and woman majoring in math and science disciplines report dressing and behaving in less
feminine ways
Automatic Activation of Threat
Stereotype threat has its ability to affect performance without a person’s conscious awareness of the
stereotype having been activated
Rather, many of the processes instigated by being the target of negative stereotypes happen automatically,
outside of conscious awareness, and result in outcomes in direct opposition to the person’s explicit goals and
First, situations that cue stereotype threat activate a schema of that stereotype
o Steele and Aronson (1995) found that black college students expecting to take an intelligence test
were more likely than their white peers to complete word fragments like R_C_ with the word RACE
instead of reasonable
alternatives like RICE, ROCK or
o As Schamader et al (2008)
contend, it is the logical
inconsistency among these
propositions that is what actually
constitutes stereotype threat
o Implies that stereotype threat
will be experienced most
strongly in those situations and
for those individuals most likely
to activate all three ideas
o Humans have a fundamental
motive for cognitive consistency,
the immediate reaction in a
sense of uncertainty and self-
doubt since one clear resolution
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to the imbalance is to activate a more negative association b/w oneself and the domain
o Uncertainty is a phenomenological driver of additional processing aimed at resolving the inconsistency
of one’s thought processes
o As a result, situations of stereotype threat raise competing possible outcomes, and one’s attention
becomes focused on cues that might provide evidence for or against either alternative
o Cues that might be otherwise innocuous, such as feeling anxious during an interview or making a simple
arithmetic error while solving math problems, can be over interpreted as a sign of failure
Evidence for this increased vigilance for negative cues comes from a recent study by Forbes, Schmader and Allen
o Pattern of brain activity were assessed in minority college students who thought that their intelligence
was being assess using neurological measurements
o Measured activity in the anterior Cingulate cortex (ACC) by analyzing error related negativity (ERN)
Past research confirmed that individuals show larger ERNs to errors when they are particularly
motivated to avoid mistakes or when they are being evaluated
Results revealed that minority college students who are invested in doing well academically
exhibited greater vigilance (i.e. larger ERNS) to the errors they made during simple response
time task when they believed that their intelligence was being assessed compared to when the
task was described more neutrally
In addition to an automatic detection of errors and bias from others, people also become more vigilant to signs
of threat in their environment as well as their own internal experiences
o E.g. women expecting to take a difficult math test exhibited an automatic Attentional shift toward
anxiety-related words betraying the emotional state they were likely experiencing at the time
In sum, situation of stereotype threat bring to mind thoughts about one’s relation to a valued domain that
conflict with one’s relation to a valued group that is stereotyped to do poorly
This cognitive inconsistency triggers certain automatic effects, including a sense of uncertainty and increased
vigilance toward cues that might help one to detect, with the goal of avoiding, behavior that could confirm the
The automatic processes that negative self-relevant stereotypes set in motion are accompanied by a number of
controlled processes that can, in turn, affect performance often for the worse but sometimes, even for the
Increased Effort at the Task
A core tenet of stereotype threat theory is that it increase one’s motivation to disconfirm the stereotype
However increased effort is not purely a controlled or explicit process
o Jamieson and Harkins articulate the idea that their mere effort account of stereotype threat
From this perspective, when ppl are threatened by how they might be evaluated, their
increased drive to perform well increases activation of the prepotent or dominant response to
the task
Problem is that the one dominant response is not always the best response to achieve success
Performance will be enhanced if the tasks is one that relies on a cognitively simple or well-
learned thought process or behavior and impaired when task is more cognitively challenging
o Research has uncovered evidence that stereotype threat increases arousal in a way that can facilitate a
dominant response
Ben-Zeev, Fein and Inzlicht demonstrated that women were faster to write their name
repeatedly when they were expecting to take a math test that had revealed gender differences
in the past compared to when they did not receive threatening instructions about the upcoming
test presumably, the increased arousal due to stereotype threat facilitated a dominant
response of name writing in an automatic way
Jamieson and Harkins suggest that stereotype threat also increases one’s efforts to counter that response when
it is identified as an error efforts that are likely to be explicit and controlled in nature
o Employed an antisaccade task in which people try to inhibit an automatic tendency to look toward, or
saccade to, a stimulus cues that flashes to the left or the right of a central fixation point on a computer
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