Forewarning: a tool to disrupt stereotype threat effects

Date
2004
Authors
Williams, Jeannetta Gwendolyn
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Abstract

This study investigated forewarning as a preventive strategy against stereotype threat—a situation-evoked anxiety linked to minority underperformance on standardized tests. During evaluative tasks, concerns about possibly confirming a group-based negative stereotype may interfere with cognitive performance. The lack of an apparent stressor may lead an individual to attribute stress to personal inability. However, the true stressor is the negative stereotype aroused by the testing situation. This dissertation addressed whether forewarning participants about stereotype threat would ease or exacerbate threat effects on the cognitive performance of African Americans. In addition, this study examined the relationship between self-compassion and post-test anxiety and cognitive interference. Further, the relationships between self-compassion, social identity strength, and rejection sensitivity were explored. Prior to completing a challenging reading test under stereotype threatening or non-threatening test conditions, African American college students read a short text that described either stereotype threat or general test anxiety. The control group read a text unrelated to stereotypes, testing, or anxiety. The results revealed that participants forewarned about stereotype threat outperformed those forewarned about general test anxiety and the control group, when testing under stereotype threat conditions. Forewarning, either about stereotype threat or test anxiety, did not impair performance under non-threatening conditions. An interesting finding was that those forewarned about stereotype threat reported greater anxiety than the forewarned-test anxiety group and the control group. It was also found that self-compassion was negatively correlated with anxiety and cognitive interference and that the magnitude of these correlations was greater under threatening conditions than under non-threatening test conditions. Further, self-compassion was positively related to social identity strength and unrelated to race-based rejection sensitivity. The results suggest that foreknowledge helps African American college students to resist stereotype threat effects on cognitive performance. Further, it appears that self-compassion may prove beneficial in assuaging emotional and cognitive reactivity tied to stereotype threat. These findings point to the importance of identifying the mechanisms by which foreknowledge influences thought and behavior. Limitations of the study and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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