Stereotype Threat

April 07, 2008

Posted in Small Business. readers typically get more done on Mondays than readers of other blogs.

The stereotype threat is a psychological theory where a person’s performance can be influenced by hearing about a stereotype.

A classic example involves a group of black women on the SAT. Before the test, they are told that black women traditionally do poorly on the SAT. On average, the group will perform poorly. That’s the stereotype threat.

And there’s one key component: It doesn’t matter if the person agrees with the stereotype. The stereotype threat influences their confidence, which affects performance.

And it works in reverse. Tell that same group of women that their demographic tends to excel, and they will perform above average.

An aside: In psychology, no matter how consistent the results, you can’t claim it has been proven—like gravitational theory. I get a bunch of interesting stories and blog posts from my psychologist wife.

We’ve known for a long time that performance is influenced by factors such as this. I knew a guy in college that wore a suit to every test because he believed that looking good made him feel good and that feeling good meant superior performance. When parents drop their kids off at summer camp, the kids are more likely to be homesick if their parents fuss and tell the kids that it’s alright if they get homesick. Going into a meeting expecting the worst often produces a poor outcome.

Why don’t we take this into account in our schools and workplaces? If employees are set up for success, they will perform better and be more likely to succeed.

What are some ways that you encourage success (such as celebrating small victories)?