Think about the word “stereotype”, what first come up to your mind? For many people they may recall some stuff like “blacks have lower intelligence”, “females are not good at math” and so on. It’s not a surprise to find many stereotypes are related to race and gender, which are also major sources of lots of social contradictions. People know that stereotype sometimes can cause intense emotional reaction and defensive behaviors, but their understanding of it may just stop there. They believe stereotype is just as abstract as a concept. However when stereotype becomes a threat, it will have actual effect on someone who is under this threat.
For example, the stereotype “blacks have lower intelligence” can actually impair black students’ performance on a math test. Steele’s study shows that average black students’ test score is significantly lower than average white students’ test score when they are under stereotype threat of the test being “diagnostic” of their intellectual ability. But in a control experiment when black students were not mentioned that their intellectual ability would be diagnosed base on this math test they performed as well as white students.
Similar experiment was performed on male and female students for testing the effect of stereotype threat “females are not good at math”, and researchers get the similar results, too. So it is clear that stereotype threat really have effect on individuals performance. The reasons why this happens are multiple and comprehensive. For short term, stereotype threat impair ones’ performance by occupying their brain capacity. Like black students under stereotype threat have extra worry about conforming the stereotype. Because of that they are distracted by this thought and put much more energy on rechecking their calculation. Although trying extra hard can help with some tests, being relaxed is always a better choice to perform nicely. For long term, people under stereotype threat may gradually conform to this stereotype, because first their self confidence and enthusiasm may be impaired by their underperformance, and second they are afraid of the consequence of not conforming with their stereotype.
What could we do to change this situation? There is no specific answer for this question, but we can think of it from social and individual aspects. Like what can we do to eliminate the stereotypes from the whole society? If that seems impossible, we can also try to find a way to individually relief the effect of stereotype threat on ourselves and on people around us.