Effects of Stereotype Threat on Simple and Complex Math Tests

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Beals, Ann Marie
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Stereotype threat is the risk of confirming a negative stereotype of one’s group as being accurate of oneself. An individual from a negatively stereotyped group attempts to disconfirm the stereotype, which in turn increases cognitive load and decreasing working memory, causing errors in responses on complex tasks. These cognitive miscalculations manifest as impaired learning, stunted intellectual development, and underperformance in testing, with decreased motivation and low self-esteem. Mere effort theory posits that if a task is cognitively easy, then the drain on cognitive load and working memory decreases, allowing for better performance. As a person from any group may be subjected to stereotype threat, understanding ways to mitigate stereotype threat and improving learning and performance is beneficial to all individuals and groups. The premise of this research paper is to examine the possibility of attenuating stereotype threat by introducing first a cognitively simple math test, followed by a more cognitively challenging math test. The intention being that by having participants first complete a simple math test, they will have more confidence and be more motivated to perform well on the second, more complex test. The hypotheses were not confirmed; however, there was significant interaction between the simple and complex math test types and the order in which the tests were performed.
Stereotype threat, race, gender, cognitive load, working memory, math tests