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NYU Stern Research Shows How to Break Down the Psychological Effects of Stereotypes on Performance

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--“What you ask of someone and how you ask it can have a big impact on performance,” says NYU Stern Marketing Professor Adam Alter.

“What you ask of someone and how you ask it can have a big impact on performance”

Prior studies have shown that “stereotype threats” (e.g., the notion that white people struggle in athletics, black people struggle in academics, and women struggle in math and in spatial reasoning) are linked to inferior performance.

“In other words, individuals underperform when they are reminded that they belong to a group associated with a weakness in a particular area,” Alter explains.

But according to Alter’s new research, co-authored with NYU Steinhardt Professor Josh Aronson, NYU Social Psychology Professor Diane Ruble and John M. Darley and Cordaro Rodriguez of Princeton University, the effects of stereotype threats can be mitigated.

Conducting two experiments – one with black school children in North Carolina and one with undergraduate students from underrepresented high schools at Princeton University – the researchers found that when they reframed a math test as a challenge versus an exam, students from the threatened group applied greater focus and perceived the task as conquerable.

“Knowing how to breakdown stereotype threats may be a relatively inexpensive way to unlock hidden talent and could have huge implications for educators,” says Alter. “And if you apply this to different sectors, the research may have applications for managers in sports and corporate environments.”

The study was accepted for publication in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

To read the full paper, click here.

To speak with Professor Adam Alter, please contact him directly at 212-998-0142,; or contact Carolyn Ritter in NYU Stern’s Office of Public Affairs, 212-998-0624,

NYU Stern
Professor Adam Alter, 212-998-0142
Carolyn Ritter, 212-998-0624
February 16, 2010: