Academic achievement gaps across racial, socioeconomic, and gender groups have persisted in the United States despite formidable recent attention on reducing the disparities. While a wide range of social, personal, and cultural factors contribute to the disparities, the simple knowledge that one belongs to a poorly-performing, stereotyped group can impair performance for even very successful members of stereotyped groups. This phenomenon is known as stereotype threat, and has been documented extensively over more than a decade of research. This study sought to elucidate the underpinnings of stereotype threat through the lens of identity relativity, suggesting that dissonance between and among identities contribute to performance deficits under different levels of identity activation. The hypothesis that stereotype threat is a type of social comparison operating under collective rather than individual identity activation was tested: an experiment was conducted in which test performance and three levels of self-esteem (implicit, explicit, and collective) served as dependent measures after activation of either an intergroup or interpersonal comparison. Subjects included community college students, about whom mild stereotypes are shown to exist. While some predictions were supported, the overall pattern of results did not support the hypotheses. Discussion builds that case that the hypotheses were valid but the methods used to investigate the phenomenon were flawed. Recommendations for redesigning the study are proposed. If the connection between stereotype threat and social comparison can be established, then research in both areas can be used to minimize detrimental comparisons and narrow the gap associated with pervasive negative stereotypes.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2009. Major: Educational Psychology. Advisors: Dr. David W. Johnson, Dr. Geoffrey Maruyama. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 143 pages, appendices A-H.
Russ, Suzanne L..
Identity relativity: linking stereotype threat and social comparison as parallel processes..
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