Monday, September 04, 2006

Stereotype Fret   posted by agnostic @ 9/04/2006 09:49:00 AM

There's something of a buzz in the blogosphere (and probably more so if you give it a few days) about an article in the September issue of Science which purports to show that a social psychological intervention narrowed the Black-White race gap in academic performance. Specifically, the authors claim that having Black students write a brief (15-minute) essay on which values matter to them and why (e.g., friends and family because they provide support in hard times) can counteract Stereotype Threat (ST), thereby boosting their academic performance compared to Black students who are not so shielded. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the article, though, a few words are in order on ST. First, psychologists have already pointed out that it is a non-starter for explaining the Black-White IQ gap: while being told that a task is an IQ test lowers performance among Black subjects on average (by hypothesis, because it induces greater stress), absence of this threat does not eliminate the Black-White IQ gap, which remains the same. Think of the effect of anti-depressant drugs -- to the extent that they work at all, they bring the person to their "true" happiness level, rather than transform them into sprightly, sanguine souls.