Stephen G. Harkins (1948-)
Nancy S. Kim, David A. DeSteno
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Department or Academic Unit
College of Arts and Sciences. Department of Psychology.
Stereotype threat, Gender differences
Stereotypes (Social psychology), Threat (Psychology), Mathematical ability--Sex differences
Stereotype threat refers to the concern that is experienced when a stigmatized individual feels at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about his/her group (Steele & Aronson, 1995). Although a multitude of research demonstrates that threat debilitates performance in stereotyped domains, little is known about how stereotype threat produces this debilitating effect on performance. The current research focuses on the potential role of motivation in producing these effects. More specifically, the experiments presented here test Jamieson and Harkins's (2007) mere effort account, which argues that stereotype threat motivates participants to want to perform well, which potentiates prepotent responses. If the prepotent response is correct, performance is facilitated. If incorrect, and participants do not know, or lack the knowledge or time required for correction, performance is debilitated. Each of the experiments in this research examines gender-math stereotypes, and indexes performance using problems taken from the quantitative section of the GRE general test. The GRE quantitative test includes two types of problems: solve problems, which require the solution of an equation; and comparison problems, which require the use of logic and estimation. Research shows that test-takers' prepotent tendency on math problems is to apply a solving approach (i.e., use known formulas and equations to compute an answer) (e.g., Gallagher et al., 2000). Consistent with mere effort predictions, Experiments 1 and 2 demonstrate that, regardless of problem difficulty, threatened participants perform better than controls on solve problems (prepotent response correct), but worse than controls on comparison problems (prepotent response incorrect). Experiment 3 shows that a simple instruction as to the correct solution approach eliminates the performance deficit on comparison problems. Stone and McWhinnie (2008) argue that although motivation may account for performance under blatant (i.e., explicit) threat, working memory interference accounts for performance under subtle threat (e.g., solo status). Experiment 4 examined whether the motivation-based, mere effort explanation generalizes across different types of stereotype threat. Females completed GRE-Q problems under subtle threat, and the results replicated those observed in Experiment 1. Threatened females performed more poorly on comparison problems and better on solve problems, suggesting that motivation can also account for the effect of subtle threat on performance. Stereotypes can also influence performance through priming processes. That is, activating stereotype constructs can lead individuals to behave stereotypically (e.g., Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996). However, little research has focused on differentiating stereotype threat and stereotype priming effects. Experiment 5 sought to determine if threat and priming operate via different or similar mechanisms. As was the case in Experiments 1-4, stereotype threat debilitated performance on problems for which the prepotent solution approach was incorrect, but facilitated performance when the prepotent solution approach was correct. In contrast, female gender primes impaired performance on both types of quantitative GRE problems. These findings suggests that performance debilitation under stereotype threat may be the result of trying too hard, whereas stereotype priming effects may result from trying too little. In sum, this research illustrates the role that motivation plays in producing the effects of stereotype threat on performance and supports Jamieson and Harkins's (2007) mere effort account.
Jeremy Paul Jamieson
Jamieson, Jeremy Paul, "The role of motivation in blatant stereotype threat, subtle stereotype threat, and stereotype priming" (2009). Psychology Dissertations. Paper 10. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d20000007
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