Influence of stereotypes on learning and performance
In the previous part, we discussed the basics of course climate. there are mainly four basic areas of course climate- stereotypes, tone, faculty-student and student-student interaction, and content. Today we will talk about stereotypes.
Certain kinds of stereotypes can create a toxic classroom climate as they may feel offensive and alienating to some students. The subtle activation of stereotypes can influence learning and performance in profound ways.
According to research conducted by American social psychologists Claude M. Steel and Joshua Aronson, there is a phenomenon called stereotype threat. It is a complex phenomenon. It refers to the tension that develops among members of a stereotyped group owing to their fear of others judging them based on stereotypes. This sense of threat can negatively impact their self-confidence, performance, preparation and their own belief in the stereotype.
Let us understand how stereotypes influence performance by analysing the research conducted by Steel and Aronson. In their study, Steel and Aronson focussed on one stereotype of African Americans – that they perform poorly on standardised tests. They chose two groups of African American students and gave them a standardised test. They asked one group to mention their race before taking the test. Steel and Aronson found out that a negative stereotype was activated in the minds of students by a simple mention of race. This, in turn, affected their performance compared to the other African American students for whom the stereotype was not activated. Similar studies conducted using common stereotypes about certain groups also showed parallel findings.
Stereotype threat operates both on cognitive basis and motivational basis.
Like in the case of marginalisation, activating stereotypes does not need to be intentional. In fact, seemingly innocuous comments can trigger stereotype threats. For example, comments and examples from teachers or students that convey certain assumptions may act as subtle triggers. Assumptions about the abilities or other qualities of members of certain groups are examples of problematic assumptions. Another trigger for stereotyping is tokenism, which refers to teachers relying on minority students to represent the minority point of view. Stereotypes may get activated subtly or blatantly, but their effect on performance is similar.
How can stereotypes influence students’ performance? It is a question that pops up in our minds when we first read about the influence of stereotypes. After a series of studies on this topic, researchers have arrived at two possible conclusions: Firstly, stereotyping can lead to lowered self-esteem and efficacy. According to data generated in their studies, the second and the most accepted one is that stereotypes generate emotions that disrupt cognitive processes. For example, if a student is angered by stereotyping, he or she will focus more on his or her anger towards teachers or peers than on the test, which will negatively impact performance. Apart from this, as a coping mechanism, students might decide that this discipline is not suitable for them in the first place.
Stereotype threat operates both on cognitive basis and motivational basis. Even though stereotyping has implications for learning and performance, effective strategies can easily remove this threat. We can discuss it in the coming episodes.