Stereotype threat

October 30, 2012

Joshua AronsonJoshua Aronson, associate professor of applied psychology at New York University, will discuss “Stereotype Threat and Its Implications for Colleges and College Students” in a talk scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5. Free and open to the public, the discussion will take place in Gannett Auditorium, Palamountain Hall. A reception will follow.

Aronson studies the psychology of stigma, or the way humans respond to negative stereotypes about their racial or gender group. He collaborated with Claude Steele of Stanford University to publish in 1995 a landmark study on “stereotype threat,” which they described as a performance-inhibiting phenomenon that occurs when students confront negative expectations of the particular stereotypes assigned to them. Explains Aronson on his Web page, “Being targeted by well-known cultural stereotypes can be very threatening. It engenders a number of interesting psychological and physiological responses, many of which interfere with intellectual performance and academic motivation.”

His work has shown how stereotype threat depresses the standardized test performance of African American, Latino, and female college students. Among his findings: “Changing the testing situation (even subtly) to reduce stereotype threat can dramatically improve standardized test scores.”

Much can be done to boost students’ achievement and enjoyment of school by understanding and attending to these psychological processes, “thereby unseating the power of stereotypes and prejudice to foil the academic aspirations of young people who, just by virtue of being born black, brown, or female, are subjected to suspicions of inferiority,” according to Aronson.

In a profile published on the NYU Web site, Aronson said his research focuses on “all the psychological reasons that underlie the gap between minorities and whites in terms of academic achievement and enjoyment of school and schooling.” He traces his interest to his childhood, during the time of desegregation: “I had friends who were black and Latino who were tremendously smart, but once they got into the class, they were not so smart. I remember being puzzled by that and wondering why it happened.”

His work has been cited extensively in two Supreme Court cases and is frequently referred to by psychologists, educators, and social scientists concerned with educational equality.

Aronson earned a B.A. degree in psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and master’s and doctoral degrees in social psychology at Princeton. His honors include a Career Award from the National Science Foundation; being named a fellow by the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (2011); a teaching excellence award from the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (2009); and NYU’s Daniel E. Griffiths Research Prize.

Sponsors of the talk are the offices of the Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Faculty Network, Intergroup Relations Program, Intercultural Studies Office and Opportunity Program.

(cover photo by Phil Scalia)