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Am Psychol. 2004 Jan;59(1):7-13.

On interpreting stereotype threat as accounting for African American-White differences on cognitive tests.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus, Elliott Hall, 75 E. River Road, Mineapolis, MN 55455, USA.


C. M. Steele and J. Aronson (1995) showed that making race salient when taking a difficult test affected the performance of high-ability African American students, a phenomenon they termed stereotype threat. The authors document that this research is widely misinterpreted in both popular and scholarly publications as showing that eliminating stereotype threat eliminates the African American-White difference in test performance. In fact, scores were statistically adjusted for differences in students' prior SAT performance, and thus, Steele and Aronson's findings actually showed that absent stereotype threat, the two groups differ to the degree that would be expected based on differences in prior SAT scores. The authors caution against interpreting the Steele and Aronson experiment as evidence that stereotype threat is the primary cause of African American-White differences in test performance.

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