November 10, 2011

High-stakes Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat -- the argument that the reason blacks or other Groups of Concern score worse on tests is because of stereotypes that they score worse on tests -- has been a wildly popular concept since the 1990s. It has proven fairly easy in psych lab experiments to get college student volunteers of the chosen varieties to not score well on zero-stakes tests by hinting to them that they are expected not to do well. To fulfill their professors' desires for a publishable result, all they have to do is slack off instead of work hard on the meaningless test, and college students are good at slacking off. 

On the other hand, it would be unethical to try to drive down the scores of members of Groups of Concern on high-stakes tests, so there is very little experimental data on whether stereotype threat actually exists on high-stakes tests, which is what everybody cares about. So, Walters, Lee, and Trapani did a study in for ETS in 2004 looking at various factors that had been alleged in experimental studies to cause Stereotype Threat using real data from the high-stakes GRE. This is about as close as anybody can come ethically to studying Stereotype Threat on a high-stakes test.
The study investigated the applicability of previous experimental research on stereotype threat to operational Graduate Record Examinations® (GRE®) General Test testing centers. The goal was to document any relationships between features of the testing environment that might cue stereotype threat as well as any impact on GRE test scores among African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and female test-takers. Among such features were the gender and ethnicity of test proctors and more general factors, such as the size, activity level, and social atmosphere of test centers. Our analyses revealed several relationships among environmental factors and several variations in test performance for all groups. However, we found no direct support for stereotype threat and, in fact, found some effects for proctor ethnicity that ran counter to a stereotype-threat explanation.


Anonymous said...

Black teens'video about black teens.

Robert in Arabia

Anonymous said...

found some effects for proctor ethnicity that ran counter to a stereotype-threat explanation

I.e. given half a chance, AMs and NAMs will cheat on tests just like they cheat on everything else in life?

[And before all the AMs at iSteve start bleating like sheep, allow me to assure you that it will take a generation or more to undo the damage that the Chu Energy Department has done to any possible idea of AM "integrity".]

jody said...

over the last 10 years i've found the exact opposite effect in the extremely high stakes world of professional sports scouting tests. this is much, much higher stakes than ANY academic test. millions upon millions of dollars (usually unnecessarily, but hey, it is what it is) ride on the results of these athletic tests and measurements.

the white athletes show up for these tests, having been told the previous 20 YEARS of their life, not the previous 20 minutes, that they are weak, that they are unathletic, that they cannot jump, and above all, that they are SLOW. yet year after year they typically perform well when measured objectively by watches and rulers and scales. the ones who are even allowed to test out, anyway. some of the ones who could perform well are not even allowed to be there.

in the NFL in particular, the entire week leading up to their scouting workouts, some of them are literally being told to their faces that they can't perform well. dozens of professionals in their industry have spent months openly making jokes about them.

but instead of what stereotype threat predicts, what i find to be the general trend is that being told they they cannot perform often encourages them to perform as well as they can.

of course by 2011, performing far above expectations will still not help them much. even if they significantly outperform expectations and even outperform many of the black athletes being tested out, their results are quickly discounted and thrown out, and other reasons are found for why they "can't play".

showing that you can sprint well and jump well compared to the field proves nothing now, if you're a white player. the player will be called a slow non-athlete in many scouting reports literally only 1 month later, all their measured performances deliberately ignored and stereotyped characterizations put firmly back into place by many of the industry professionals.

but stereotype THREAT does not seem to be a phenomenon in operation in this particular realm of testing.

ragin' AZN said...

I read a couple of Claude Steele's articles about S threat, at the end of a college course about the history of colleges since the Civil War (before all the econ majoring quants at iSteve start bleating like sheep: I have a trust fund!)

It's an overly abstract, rarefied concept to begin with. How to prove that people essentially throw the match in spite of themselves? If someone needed to do well on a test that counted, but couldn't deliver for whatever anxious reason, isn't that a data point? We're limited to dealing with students as they actually are, in other words, instead of how they potentially should be.

It's fun for psych departments to scholastically debate it all but has even less real-world applicability than neutrinos or dark matter...

jody said...

if you want to see how dumb the whole thing turns out, just go here:

after 9 weeks of play, a white player is leading he league in passing yards, receiving yards, tackles, and sacks, and eric weddle is sharing the lead in interceptions.

other than quarterback, these guys are barely allowed to play any of these positions. but when given a chance, they can perform well.

i'm not trying to argue that they would take over the league or outperform everybody at every position, but this kind of thing happens over and over. it can't be a coincidence or a random fluctuation.

the players come in, perform well when tested, display little evidence of stereotype threat...and then most of them are never allowed to play. then, a few do get to play sometimes, and perform well, as their NCAA playing history and combine measurements suggest they would.

Anonymous said...

Ive asked this here before - can anyone explain how Stereotype Threat is supposed to co-exist with Fear of Acting White?

They cant both be true at the same time surely?

Georgia Resident said...

"allow me to assure you that it will take a generation or more to undo the damage that the Chu Energy Department has done to any possible idea of AM 'integrity'"

Which...therefore proves that Asians, on the whole, are dishonest? I'm not saying they're paragons of virtue, but this is a piss-poor argument.

Anonymous said...

Good find Steve.

europeasant said...

With a lot of Asians,test taking and homework is a team effort.

John D said...

It has proven fairly easy in psych lab experiments to get college student volunteers of the chosen varieties to not score well on zero-stakes tests by hinting to them that they are expected not to do well.

If all stereotype threat takes to be realized is 'hinting to them that they are expected to not do well', then wouldn't it be equally true that hinting to them that they are expected to do well would produce improved results?

Having higher expectations is better than having low expectations, but at the end of the day, we all (groups too) have our cognitive ceilings that we bump up against, regardless of expectations. Group averages are what they are. Repeating that something that is green is red enough times will never really make it red, which is tantamount to what liberal creationists do when they repeat that racial group intelligence differences are environmental, or the result of stereotype threat, or whatever other absurd theory they come up with to explain the gap.

Should I feel Threatened? said...

I don't understand how the "sterotype threat" selectively works or is purported to work at all.

How did Asians and Blacks overcome the racism and resistance in academics and sports to do so well today? Are Asians simply suffering "sterotype threat" in the NFL and NBA today?

Given that NE Asians have the lowest self-esteem relative to ability and Blacks have the highest wouldn't Asians suffer the most from "sterotype threat" and Blacks not at all.

The typical high-T/sensitive receptor response to a sterotype threat seems to be to get angry, energized and react agasint it - not to become a self-doubting shrinking violet.

Anonymous said...

All that researchers have to do to make a test "high stakes" for college test subjects is offer cases of Natty Ice to the winners.

Bleating AA Sheep said...

it will take a generation or more to undo the damage that the Chu Energy Department has done to any possible idea of AM "integrity".

Chu is merely a low-level functionary selected by and following the PC script written by his white power elite masters.

Asian-Americans are not the masters in command driving the West into every ditch available.

However, AA are probaby more suseptible to pubically, not privately, parroting the PC programming our elites propagandize for the masses.

Seismic Puppy said...

But didn't No Child Left Behind operate on the principle that 'bigotry of low expectations' is wrong? Didn't it tell black kids that they can study just as hard and do just as well on tests as other kids? Well, how did that go?

And didn't white people used to say that blacks were too stupid and dumb to become heavyweight boxing champions? How did that go?

Hey, I have an idea. Maybe there aren't may Mexicans, Asians, and Arabs in the NBA because we expect them to do not as well in those subjects. If we tell every Paco, Fong, and Abdul that they are naturally great athletes, maybe they'll soon dominate. And if we tell blacks they're no good at sports, blacks will lose self-esteem and suck at it.

Seismic Puppy said...

Hey, I now know why so many of us are HBD 'racists'. It's because liberals have this stereotype of us as 'evil whites racists', and we just can't shake off those expectations. We are victims of liberal stereotyping.

And blacks are more likely to commit crime because we stereotype them as thugs. To be sure, white people would rather see and deal with the Bill Cosbies and Magic Negroes of the world--and it's blacks who've invented stuff like rap music--, but it must be subconscious stereotyping on our part. Yeah, if we just all believe that all blacks are clean-cut Negroes like Obama, maybe blacks will stop burning down cities.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My son's HS had fairly dramatic increases in its test results the last two years, especially in math. It is now one of the top schools in the state.

Except it is not one of the top schools in the state, as everyone who lives here knows. I knew there had not been any major demographic changes in the town, and have learned to be suspicious of claims that pedagogical techniques can have such rapid effect (or much of any effect, maybe). Clearly, something was up whereby we are gaming the system. Or at minimum, exploiting an advantage others haven't noticed.

The principal told me that the math department had taken specific steps to match students with proctors that they liked and might want to please, or at least not be visibly goofing off in front of. Presumably, this would have little effect on the higher scores of already-motivated students, but might reduce the number of kids blowing the test off as unimportant. I believe this is a large factor in the high Scandinavian, especially Finnish, scores on tests. National honor is invoked. That would not likely work in the US, but the localised form might indeed do so.

Anonymous said...

If there is some feature of the testing environment that is both standard operating procedure and possibly linked to stereotype threat, then it seems like it would be an ethical experiment to manipulate that feature. For instance, the stereotype threat literature has shown an effect of students having to check a box marking their race right before a test. If this is current practice in any real high stakes tests, then an experimenter could randomize subjects to either filling out demographic information at the beginning of the test or at the end of the test. The confirmation of stereotype threat in the real world, or lack thereof, would be to examine whether minorities who filled out the demographic information section at the beginning of the test did worse.

Jim Bowery said...

There is also "stereotype threat" involved in smearing those who talk frankly about race as the moral equivalent of child molesters.

The proper response, in a civilized society, to "sterotype threat" is to train people to have contempt for the opinions of others.

Oh, you want people to take to heart Hollywood sterotypes?

Kill anyone who refuses a challenge to natural duel by someone so dishonored.

Bye bye civilization.

Matt said...

It always seemed rather BS to me. A black kid goes to take the SAT and reasons "I'm expected to do badly, so I guess I will". Yeah, that doesn't even pass the sniff test. I can see "I don't much care about schoolin', so let's just get this over with" or "What the heck is this crap? I can't even understand the first question" but this stereotype threat seems like obvious nonsense.

Currahee said...

Dr Huxtable stongly disaproves of this sort o racist sterotyping.

Jacob Roberson said...

I've seen "Stereotype Threat" in action, and I've seen black students who aren't phased by it at all. Depends on whether you really want to go somewhere or not. I always say with the nature/nurture debate: It would surprise me if it wasn't both, how could it not be both?

Anonymous said...

Three test groups, same test in all:

1) Convey to the black subjects that they are not expected to do well.

2) Tell them nothing.

3) Tell them the test has been designed, and demonstrated, to be race-neutral, producing no differences in scores betwee racial groups.

Compare the results. Of course, I assume that this has been done already.
If the students are really throwing the test to produce "publishable results", then this problem has no solution.

Perhaps the black students really are anxious...because they are in over their heads, and they know it?

Kylie said...

"if we just all believe that all blacks are clean-cut Negroes like Obama, maybe blacks will stop burning down cities."

If we had all just believed that blacks are more likely to burn down cities than to be clean-cut Negroes, then Obama might not have become POTUS.

eh said...

This is the kind of research that will keep America ahead.

Seismic Puppy said...

Let's not be completely disingenuous. Stereotype Threat is a genuine problem as a compounding factor. The thing is, we must be careful not to mistake it as the CORE factor.

After all, white conservatives also invoke the Stereotype Threat as an explanation as to why there are so few whites in certain sports positions.

The idea is that:
(1) Blacks are confident in pursuing stuff like sprinting, running back position, and basketball because they believe themselves to be naturally good at those.
(2) Whites are less likely to pursue certain sports or positions because they feel that blacks have an insurmountable natural advantage. This mindset may affect even white athletes with real aptitude for certain sports or positions. One reason why white Americans lost interest in boxing was the all too stereotypical result of blacks beating whites.

(3) Coaches and others may favor blacks for certain positions because of their long experience informing them that blacks are indeed generally/naturally better at certain athletic skills.

So, the Stereotype Threat does influence many people in how they direct their interests, passions, and careers.

Even so, I see it as peripheral factor than a core factor. Also, Stereotype Threat, though regrettable, is essentially the product of genuine natural differences than a bigoted social construct.
Many whites lack confidence in certain sports because of decades of natural outcome, not because there's some conspiracy to fill whites with lack of confidence.

Similarly, the failure of blacks in academics reflects naturally lower ability among blacks.
This reality may reinforce negative attitude even among blacks with decent natural intelligence, but the core reality itself is a reflection of natural black disadvantage in certain intellectual pursuits.

The thing is we should recognize and address the fact of the CORE NATURAL ABILITY while at the same time making sure that people understand that 'general' doesn't mean 'absolute'. Even if it's generally true that blacks are less intelligent than whites, it doesn't mean every black is less intelligent than whites; and so, blacks should still try to do their best where they can.

Jacob Roberson said...

Also, "Stereotype Threat" can make someone try harder so as to push past the barrier. Why does the Victimology Crowd only talk about failure? In my experience black people are mostly not meek enough to just give up. Although some are, shrug.

Anonymous said...

steve, all over the internet there are counter-examples where the stereo-type threat is corrorborated, why don't u liknk to some of THAT!!????

Anonymous said...

Scariest thing

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anon 4:03 Why don't you link to it?

LemmusLemmus said...

Steve, the link doesn't seem to lead to the document you're quoting from.

Anonymous said...

Obama's Chicago,0,5079572.story

Robert in Arabia

Anonymous said...

Should I feel Threatened? makes a good point:

>Given that NE Asians have the lowest self-esteem relative to ability and Blacks have the highest wouldn't [such] Asians suffer the most from "sterotype threat" and Blacks not at all[?]<

Maybe we're supposed to believe the average NE Asian makes a show of having low self-esteem when really he is confident inwardly, while the average black makes a show of bravado but inwardly is full of doubt.

That is plausible. Genuine self-esteem comes from genuine abililty. That is why most able people come back to the top like a float even after being criticized unjustly. And why, conversely, the less able must be kept afloat artificially, by lavish overpraise from without and delusional bravado from within.

The image that the average smart NE Asian creates of his having low self-esteem may be a defensive manuver to avoid inspiring envy in other people. "I am no good," he assures the world just before he aces the exam. In such cultures the concept of "face" involves similar defensive manuvers. (See Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior by Helmut Schoeck.)

While thus there is psychologically plausibility to some aspects of ST theory, still I believe that the theory's advocates are dishonest. Too clearly, their motive is not other than to "blame whitey" - in other words, to convince whites (and Asians) that any relatively poor average performance of blacks is the fault of white people; the a priori assumption is that the existence of whites oppresses blacks. The theorists use some elements of psychological plausibility to put over a predetermined political conclusion.

Maya said...

"All that researchers have to do to make a test "high stakes" for college test subjects is offer cases of Natty Ice to the winners."

Natty?!?!? How low the college kids must have fallen... Even I wouldn't have taken a standardized test (no doubt forced on Psych 101 students as the required experiment participation hours) seriously for a case of Natty.

Anonymous said...

RE: Jody at 11/11/11 1:42 AM :

Interesting point. Particularly about the athletics - from my experiences check out the composition of the Navy SEAL teams (Disclaimer: I am not a SEAL) - the toughest, fittest guys in the world and the the vast, vast majority are white, seconded by hispanics. Very few other groups. I mean we are talking maybe 12 guys out of 2,500 that I personally am aware of.

Anonymous said...

re: Anonymous at 11/15/11 11:23 AM
About Navy Seals: they are not selected just for athletic ability.

They are selected for the ability to persist and never give up no matter how tired, exhausted, or hungry they are. They are selected for the ability to think, solve problems, and display leadership.

They also need to be able to swim well.