Morning lessons

Researchers conducted two experiments—one with black school children in North Carolina and one with undergraduate students from underrepresented high schools at Princeton University. They found that when a math test was reframed as a challenge versus an exam, students from the threatened group applied greater focus and perceived the task as conquerable. (Courtesy: NYU)

NYU (US)—What you say and how you say it can lessen the effects of “stereotype threats,” new research shows.

Prior studies have shown that these types of threats—for example, the idea 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,” explains Adam Alter, marketing professor at New York University.

Alter found, however, that when couched in different language, the effects of the threats can be mitigated.

Researchers conducted two experiments—one with black school children in North Carolina and one with undergraduate students from underrepresented high schools at Princeton University.

They found that when a math test was reframed as a challenge versus an exam, students from the threatened group applied greater focus and perceived the task as conquerable.

“Knowing how to break down stereotype threats may be a relatively inexpensive way to unlock hidden talent and could have huge implications for educators,” says Alter.

“If you apply this to different sectors, the research may have applications for managers in sports and corporate environments.”

Researchers from Princeton University contributed to the study, which appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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