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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Helpful or Harmful? The Role of Ingroup Members as the Source of Evaluation in Stereotype Threat Contexts

  • Author(s): Cortland, Clarissa
  • Advisor(s): Shapiro, Jenessa R
  • et al.

Negative stereotypes are harmful not only because they can instigate prejudice and discrimination from others; they also have the power to arouse damaging fears and concerns in the minds of negatively stereotyped individuals – a phenomenon known as stereotype threat. Being worried about confirming and reinforcing negative stereotypes that could potentially apply to oneself is distracting and has far-reaching negative consequences on an individual’s cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors. Given the potential for stereotypes to have such a significant negative impact, what approaches might offer protection from the harmful effects of stereotype threat? A significant amount of stereotype threat intervention research has pointed to highlighting the presence of ingroup members – or members of an important social group that one belongs to – who have the potential to both encourage and inspire improvements in performance when faced with negative stereotypes. However, very little work has investigated the conditions under which ingroup members might serve as a source of threat in contexts when negative stereotypes are salient. It is plausible that ingroup members should, under some circumstances, evoke threat when they are in a position to judge one’s actions, resulting in negative outcomes typically associated with stereotype threat effects. Three experiments investigate the role of ingroup members as a source of evaluation in stereotype threat contexts, pinning down specifically when ingroup members are more likely to serve a helpful, protective role versus a more harmful role on individuals experiencing stereotype threat. In Experiments 1 and 2, ingroup member evaluators – whether portrayed as successful role models (Experiment 1) or merely present ingroup peers (Experiment 2) – serve as a source of support and can protect performance when one’s personal abilities are the target of evaluation, but serve as a source of threat and result in destructive performance decrements when the group’s reputation is at stake (group-as-target stereotype threat contexts). Using an online vignette study design, Experiment 3 demonstrates that the threat elicited by ingroup member sources of evaluation in group-as-target stereotype threat contexts is qualitatively different from the threat elicited by outgroup member sources of evaluation, and is characterized by concerns about disappointing the ingroup member evaluator.

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