Stereotype Threat: An Unexpected Influence on Psychological Testing

When it comes to taking psychological tests — such as behavioral tests, intelligence tests, and personality tests — do these tests reliably and validly measure the psychological constructs that they are set out to measure? What happens when external factors influence a subject’s performance on a particular psychological test? According to Steele and Aronson, stereotype threat is a phenomenon that involves an individual “being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group” (1995). Stereotype threat can affect all individuals with personal demographics that are negatively stereotyped as having poorer performance on a particular task (, 2014).

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During behavioral studies, if Whites are asked to play a sport that Blacks or Hispanics typically excel in, then results will demonstrate that Whites will perform poorly when surrounded by Blacks and Hispanics, compared to when playing in front of other White individuals (Sakamoto et al., 2002). On standardized math tests, when females are asked to indicate their sex or when they take the test in a room surrounded by males, females tend to perform poorer than males (Jussim, 2012). This same phenomenon applies to African Americans when taking intelligence tests in the same room as Whites, or when Whites take intelligence tests in the same room as individuals from Asian descent (Jussim, 2012).

In the stereotype threat condition, the SAT scores of Black individuals was much lower than that of Whites. In contrast, in the no stereotype threat condition, Blacks performed better than White individuals. Image source:

What is interesting is the fact that stereotype threat can be applied to all aspects of life! As such, it is expected that such effects also persist during psychological testing. Consequently, stereotype threat can influence the results of a given psychological test, thus rendering the results invalid. Think of it, when males and females complete intelligence tests in the same room, this can negatively affect the scores of the female participants. The same applies for all situations invoking the stereotype threat. This becomes troublesome when the results of various tests — such as a sports team tryout, or an important academic exam — are negatively affected by the phenomenon of stereotype threat.

What can be done to prevent this phenomenon from further persisting? Several steps can be taken in reducing stereotype threat, such as: (1) refraining from using language that induces stereotype descriptions, (2) asking about an individual’s demographic characteristics only at the end of the test, (3) providing individuals with a role model that goes against a particular stereotype (ex: having a female skilled in math administer a math test to students), (4) teaching individuals that various abilities, such as intelligence, is flexible, and (5) if possible, making groups of different demographics take the exam in different rooms to completely prevent the stereotype threat from arising (, 2014). The organization Student Tutor suggests that individuals can prevent a particular stereotype threat from becoming fulfilled by preparing themselves thoroughly for the exam (2007). As we can see from the image presented below, this can include “practic[ing], studying early and often, getting help when needed, and prepar[ing]” in advance for a particular exam (Student Tutor, 2007).

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In conclusion, stereotype threat can affect the scores of individuals on various psychological tests. It is important that all individuals involved in such testing — including the test developers, test administrators, and the subjects themselves — are aware about the existence of stereotype threat to ensure that they take all precautions necessary to prevent this persuasive phenomenon of stereotype type from becoming fulfilled.

Student ID: 260605129


Jussim, Lee. Social Perception and Social Reality: Why Accuracy Dominates Bias and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Oxford University Press. Print. (2014). What is stereotype threat? Retrieved from (2014). What can be done to reduce stereotype threat? Retrieved from

Sakamoto et al. (2002). Popular Psychological Tests and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: An Experiment of Japanese Female Undergraduate Students. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 3: 107–124, doi: 10.1111/1467–839X.00057

Student Tutor. (2007). Test Anxiety Tip. Retrieved from

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