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Math 7-9 > Factors > Stereotype Threat

Stereotype Threat

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Many stereotypes exist about the academic performance of learners based on characteristics such as their race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Stereotype Threat research suggests that people can underperform in many academic areas, including math, when faced with the prospect of being judged based on these stereotypes.

Main Ideas

Stereotype Threat occurs when a negative stereotype that exists in a culture about a group results in suboptimal performance by members of that group. This can impact performance even when the learner does not personally experience prejudiced behavior toward them by teachers or peers. The effect is particularly strong on tests where students are told the test is diagnostic of their intellectual abilities. Even individuals who do not believe the stereotype is true about their group will often still experience the negative effects of Stereotype Threat.

People can hold two types of stereotypes:

  • People may be unaware of their implicit stereotypes, but these beliefs can still impact their behaviors towards and interpretations of others in an unconscious manner.
  • People are aware of their explicit stereotypes, which can also impact their behaviors towards and interpretations of others.

Stereotype Threat impacts math performance for multiple groups:

  • Girls are at risk of Stereotype Threat because of the general belief that boys are better at math.
  • Certain groups, such as Latino/Latina and Black students, are at risk of negative stereotypes of mathematical ability.
  • Students who have learning disabilities are also at risk for being stigmatized.
  • There is also a stereotype that Asian Americans are better at math than their peers.
  • Negative stereotypes will impact math skills in students who most highly value achievement in the math domain.

Students' awareness of stereotypes about different groups increases with age, and students who are from groups that are subject to negative academic stereotypes are even more aware of those stereotypes than students from non-stereotyped groups.

Learn More

  • Gender, Race, and Ethnic Identity: Subtopic that explores various ways students' identity and experiences of discrimination affect outcomes on Digital Promise's Research Map
  • Stereotype Threat: Subtopic that explores how social stigmas related to race, gender, and other identifiers can affect students' academic outcomes on Digital Promise's Research Map

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