Stereotype threat

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Stereotype threat is a psychological mechanism in which a person's performance is inhibited by prevalent stereotypes about a group to which the person belongs. This threat occurs when an individual is at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about his or her own group. The individual may not perform according to his or her true ability; rather, concerns about confirming generally held beliefs regarding this individual's grouping (e.g., sex, age, gender, race, etc.) cause him or her to under-perform. Click Here to learn more.

Evidence of Stereotype Threat

Steele & Aronson (1995) found that "Black college freshmen and sophomores performed more poorly on standardized tests than White students when their race was emphasized. When race was not emphasized, however, Black students performed better and equivalently with White students. The results showed that performance in academic contexts can be harmed by the awareness that one's behavior might be viewed through the lens of racial stereotypes."

Aronson, Fried, & Good (2002) produced evidence that "encouraging students to see intelligence as malleable (i.e., embrace an incremental theory of intelligence) can raise enjoyment and performance in academic contexts." In their experiment, college students in the treatment group learned an incremental theory of intelligence and wrote a letter explaining the theory to a low-performing middle school pen pal. "The African American students (and, to some degree, the White students) encouraged to view intelligence as malleable reported greater enjoyment of the academic process, greater academic engagement, and obtained higher grade point averages than their counterparts in two control groups."

Ambady, Paik, Steele, Owen-Smith, & Mitchell (2004) showed that "individuation (priming an individual to recall her distinct interests and abilities) can serve as a buffer against stereotype threat, perhaps because it allows a means for individuals to distance the self from identities linked to the stereotype in question."

Click here for a more complete listing of studies that document the existence, mediation, and moderation of stereotype threat.

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How to Reduce Stereotype Threat

  • Reframe the task.
  • Deemphasize threatened social identities.
  • Provide wise criticism, emphasizing high standards with assurances of capability.
  • Provide role models.
  • Provide external attributions for difficulty.

Click Here to go to for details on how to implement the above solutions.

What Economists Have to Say about Stereotype Threat

Christina Günther (MPI of Economics, Evolutionary Economics Group), Neslihan Arslan Ekincib, Christiane Schwieren (University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics AWI), and Martin Strobel (Universiteit Maastricht, Department of Economics) conducted experiments supporting a stereotype threat explanation for the wage gap between men and women. "Women tend not to compete with men in areas where they (rightly or wrongly) think that they will lose anyway – and the same holds for men." Their findings can be linked to the performance of women in the economics classroom. Since the field of economics is perceived as a "male" field, women may underperform or be discouraged from the field due to the perception that they do not belong.

In "Stereotype Threat and the Student-Athlete" (NBER Working Papers: 14705, 2009), Thomas S. Dee "presents an economic model of stereotype threat [as well as] empirical evidence from a laboratory experiment in which students at a selective college were randomly assigned to a treatment that primed their awareness of a stereotyped identity (i.e., student-athlete). This treatment reduced the test-score performance of athletes relative to non-athletes by 14 percent (effect size = -1.0)."

There is very little literature from economists concerning stereotype threat itself, let alone stereotype threat in the classroom. As of May 2012, only ten publications show up in an Econlit search for "stereotype threat." Psychologists have explored this topic extensively, but the majority of research looks at the general implications of academic stereotypes of racial minorities and the implications in STEM of gender stereotypes. Very little research has examined the incidence of stereotype threat within the field of Economics.


In order to create a more inclusive classroom environment, economics professors should be aware of stereotype threat and its potential effects upon students. To explore more information concerning stereotype threat, please go to this website