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In a piece for the New York Times, Annie Murray Paul decodes the idea — dubbed the "stereotype threat" — that when minorities are reminded of their ethnicity before an academic evaluation, like a test or exercise, they tend to be less successful.

Mr. Aronson, an associate professor at New York University, has been a leader in investigating the effects of social forces on academic achievement. Along with the psychologist Claude Steele, he identified the phenomenon known as "stereotype threat." Members of groups believed to be academically inferior — African-American and Latino students enrolled in college, or female students in math and science courses — score much lower on tests when reminded beforehand of their race or gender.

The pair's experiments in the 1990s, and the dozens of studies by other researchers that followed, concluded that the performance of these students suffered because they were worried about confirming negative stereotypes about their group.

In a 1995 article in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Professors Steele and Aronson found that black students performed comparably with white students when told that the test they were taking was "a laboratory problem-solving task." Black students scored much lower, however, when they were instructed that the test was meant to measure their intellectual ability. In effect, the prospect of social evaluation suppressed these students' intelligence.


Read Annie Murray Paul's entire piece at the New York Times.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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