Fulfilling Positive Stereotypical Expectations, Performance Boosts or Performance Decrements?

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Virginia Tech

There is plenty of research on effects of negative stereotypes on performance, but less is known about effects of positive stereotypes. Research examining effects of positive stereotypes on performance has found mixed, often competing, results; positive stereotypes have been shown to lead to performance decrements, performance boosts, both boosts and decrements, or neither. One goal of the current study was to examine how domain identification, mode of stereotype activation, group membership of social referents, and valence of performance feedback (i.e. threat salience antecedents) influence whether positive stereotypes harm or benefit performance. I asserted that different combinations of the aforementioned variables would result in differential levels of threat salience, which I define as feelings of stress or pressure that arise from a dynamic interplay between performance motivation, anxiety and self-efficacy. Furthermore, as threat salience increased performance boosts from the positively stereotyped identity were expected to decrease and eventually lead to performance decrements. I also aimed to pinpoint the exact condition, or level of threat salience, that would lead to the switch from performance boosts to performance decrements (i.e. a tipping point).

The threat salience antecedents of social referent’s group membership and feedback valence were combined to create a 2 (male/negative feedback vs female/positive feedback) X 2 (implicit activation vs explicit activation) design with a measured causal antecedent (domain identification). Participants took part in a laboratory study utilizing the positive stereotype that females are better than males at verbal ability tasks. Before arriving to the lab, participants were required to complete measures of verbal ability domain identification. Upon arrival to the lab, participants completed one trial of verbal ability items before being exposed to one of the four combinations of threat salience antecedents; following the manipulations, participants completed a subsequent trial of verbal ability items. The results of the study did not support the hypotheses; greater threat salience was not found to lead to worse performance nor was there support for a tipping point whereby performance boosts shifted to performance decrements. Possible reasons for null findings are discussed along with implications of exploratory analyses.

Stereotype threat, positive stereotypes, performance boosts and decrements