Testosterone, status, and social stereotypes : implications for cognitive performance
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Differences in school performance between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White students are prevalent at every level. In this dissertation, I argue that many of these performance differences can be traced to stereotypes about Hispanics’ academic abilities. Specifically, I propose that these stereotypes impair performance because they represent a threat to one’s status. But not everyone responds the same when their status is threatened or challenged. A large literature suggests that individuals high in baseline testosterone (T) react more strongly to situations in which their status is threatened or challenged. Thus, if stereotypes represent a threat to status, and baseline T moderates responses to status, then baseline T should moderate responses to a reminder of stereotypes. The present research applied this framework to performance differences between non-Hispanic and Hispanic students. Participants provided a baseline T sample, and half of them were then reminded of the negative stereotypes about Hispanics’ academic abilities (threat condition). All participants completed a measure of status-related thoughts, followed by a second T sample to assess changes in T. Participants then completed a section of the GRE Verbal test. Finally, participants completed a measure of their current mood state. Overall, results were consistent with the hypothesis that stereotypes threaten status. In one notable exception, Hispanics did not perform worse when reminded of stereotypes. However, post-hoc analyses suggest that this could be traced to the diversity of the “Hispanic” sample. An examination of the mediating mechanisms revealed two interesting patterns for future research. First, Hispanics high in T showed increased thoughts of status, and this mediated the ethnic difference in GRE performance among high T participants. Second, the relationship between T change and GRE performance was positive among non-Hispanic participants in the threat condition, but negative among Hispanic participants in the threat condition. Taken together, these data suggest that stereotypes impair cognitive performance because they represent a threat to one’s status. When a threat to status occurs in the context of an academic test, one’s performance seems to depend upon an interaction between their perceived status and their testosterone level.