Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Stereotype Threat

GH sent me a link to a study which attempts to measure the impact of sexual objectification on the cognitive performance of women subjected to it. The topic is fascinating and so are the ways the study tries to mimic the sexual gaze. But a total sample size of just twenty-five women makes me reluctant to draw any firm conclusions from it.

The question posed in that study reminded me of the stereotype threat, though having your brain freeze because of wolf whistles might or might not fall under that rubric. A stereotype threat is*

a disruptive concern, when facing a negative stereotype, that one will be evaluated based on this stereotype

It was first observed operating in various testing situations. African-Americans, Latinos and women in general tend to test lower when the test is preceded by something which elicits negative stereotypes about the group the test-taker belongs to.

Why does this happen? Evidence suggests that priming the negative stereotype inside the test-taker's mind reduces working memory capacity or increases her or his mental load.

It sounds a bit like the hoped-for effect of the insults sports fans toss at the opposing team when they want their own team to win, except that the stereotype threat is internalized and triggering it doesn't require actual slurs or insults. A study on women's performance in chess demonstrates this pretty clearly.
*Do you see anything odd about the way this Wikipedia article goes?