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Psychol Sci. 2009 Sep;20(9):1132-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02417.x. Epub 2009 Jul 29.

Latent ability: grades and test scores systematically underestimate the intellectual ability of negatively stereotyped students.

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  • 1Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Past research has assumed that group differences in academic performance entirely reflect genuine differences in ability. In contrast, extending research on stereotype threat, we suggest that standard measures of academic performance are biased against non-Asian ethnic minorities and against women in quantitative fields. This bias results not from the content of performance measures, but from the context in which they are assessed-from psychological threats in common academic environments, which depress the performances of people targeted by negative intellectual stereotypes. Like the time of a track star running into a stiff headwind, such performances underestimate the true ability of stereotyped students. Two meta-analyses, combining data from 18,976 students in five countries, tested this latent-ability hypothesis. Both meta-analyses found that, under conditions that reduce psychological threat, stereotyped students performed better than nonstereotyped students at the same level of past performance. We discuss implications for the interpretation of and remedies for achievement gaps.

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