"Armor against prejudice": towards equality in education

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"Armor against prejudice": towards equality in education

Post by kenm » Wed May 15, 2013 2:53 pm

The June 2013 edition of Scientific American has an article "Armor against prejudice", by Ed Yong, a science writer based in England, who also writes for Nature, New Scientist and National Geographic. The subtitle reads: "Even subtle reminders of prejudice against one's sex, race or religion can hinder performance in school, work and athletics. Researchers have found new ways to reverse and prevent this effect"

This effect has been shown in well-designed studies since 1995, though, unfortunately, few have been independently repeated. Some quotes from the 300+ word article:

"To date hundreds of studies have found evidence of stereotype threat in all manner of groups. It affects students from poorer backgrounds in academic tests and men in tasks of social sensitivity. White students suffer from it when pitted against Asian peers in math tests or against black peers in sports."

"In the past decade, psychologists have shifted from showing that stereotype threat exists to to understanding how it works. ... The most obvious culprit was working memory. ... To test this idea, Schmader gave 75 volunteers a difficult working memory test, during which they had to memorize a list of words while solving mathematical equations. She told some volunteers that the test would assess their memory skills and that men and women may have inborn differences in their abilities. Sure enough, women who were told of this supposed discrepancy kept fewer words in mind, whereas their male colleagues had no such problems".

Countering the effect:

"Geoffrey Cohen, ... at Stanford, has achieved particulary impressive results. ... he asks people to consider what is important to them, be it popularity or musical ability, and write about why it matters. The 15-minute exercise acts like a mental vaccine that boosts students' self-confidence, helping them combat any future stereotype threat."

New ways to help students are being sought. However, Cohen and Greg Walton, his Stanford collaborator, warn that there are many other reasons for achievement gaps.

An encouraging conclusion:

"By thwarting stereotype threat, researchers have shown that the stereotypes themselves are unfounded. Performance gaps between black and white students or between male and female scientists do not indicate differences in ability; rather they reflect prejudices that we can change."

Original papers:

"Recursive processes in Self-Affirmation: Intervening to Close the Minority Achievement Gap." Geoffrey L. Cohen et al. in Science, Vol. 324, pages 400-403; April 17, 2009.

"A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students." Gregory M. Walton and Geoffrey L. Cohen in Science, Vol. 331, pages 1447-1451; March 18, 2011
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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