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Stereotype threat is the fear of living up to a primarily negative perception about an individual’s social group. The fear of a stereotype threat, whether perceived or real, usually evokes a feeling of anxiety that could harm an individual’s mental balance if not properly managed.

In this post, we will understand the stereotype threat phenomenon, its implications, symptoms of its existence, how Formplus can help evaluate stereotypes and much more.

What is a Stereotype Threat?

The term stereotype threat was first defined by researchers Steele and Aronson as “being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group” (Steele et al., 1995).

Stereotype threat is a state of mental awareness of a negative belief about one’s abilities or performance. This could lead to an individual exhibiting characteristics that conform with the negative ideology.

This heightened awareness of a negative expectation could put much pressure on the individual. Stereotype threat is generally believed to be location or situation-specific.

For instance, a woman trying out her first flying test to qualify as a pilot would be very nervous, as men dominate that career space.

This threat, real or perceived, could affect the performance of an individual irrespective of their gender. Stereotype threats affect men and women and usually have no age limit.

Read: How to Construct User Personas, User Stories & Archetypes (Examples + Templates)

Research Findings on Stereotype Threat

Research in the STEM field by Psychologist Steven Spencer and his team discovered how stereotypes about women in STEM  fields could affect the scores of females on a math assessment. In this study, 2 groups of male and female participants took a maths test.

The same test was administered to all participants; however, before the test was conducted, one group (A) was told that men and women scored differently on the test. The other group(B) was told that men and women both performed equally well in the test.

The women in the group performed poorly compared to the men because of the gender bias expressed towards them. The women in group B did as well as their male counterparts. This implies that test scores do not just reflect academic prowess but also depict our expectations and the social context surrounding individuals.

Read: Pygmalion Effect: Examples and Classroom Applications

Research Findings On Race And Academic Performance

Steele and Aronson carried out another research on the stereotype threat between race and academic performance in black and white students. This research was carried out on the basis that black students are not as bright as their white counterparts. The researchers discovered that when black students were informed that the white students did better before the test, the black students performed poorly. On the other hand, the black students performed excellently when no information was provided on who usually did better.

This showed that the stereotype threat made black students susceptible to failure when their race was part of the parameters used to judge their academic ability.

Implications of Stereotype Threat in Academics

The implications of stereotype threat in academics have led to a low percentage of females interested in STEM and core maths careers. This shows that negative expectations erode trust and diminish individuals’ academic performances. When students doubt their acceptance in an environment, for whatever reason, it hampers their abilities. This is so because the heightened awareness caused by this concern affects their ability to focus and discourages them from forming meaningful relationships.

Read: Golem Effect: Definition, Examples & Classroom Implications

Examples of Stereotype Threat

Some relatable examples of stereotype threat can be found in how teachers or parents organise activities for children based on gender.

For Instance Girls: The activities are usually around playing with dolls, and the colour theme is usually pink. On career days, dress-up is usually in the attires of nurses, homemakers, chefs, and teachers.

Boys: Activities are usually rugged and outdoor-related. The colour theme is blue. Toys like trucks, building blocks, and football are the norm. Career day dress-up is usually the outfits of engineers, pilots, and doctors.

Other examples of stereotypes include statements like;

  1. Nursing is a female profession(This is wrong, understanding and administering of care is not gender-based)
  2. Boys are better engineers than girls.
  3. Stop whining,  like a girl.
  4. Pink is for girls
  5. Blue is for boys
  6. Saying blonde girls are dumb
  7. Believe that older adults cannot be tech-savvy
  8. Men are better builders than women
  9. Being an astronaut is a career for boys
  10. Boys can sew or play with dolls

Read: Barnum Effect in Research: Meaning & Implications

How to Recognise the Workings of Stereotype Threats

When people are faced with stereotype threats, they exhibit specific characteristics which show that they are faced with a stereotype threat.

The first response to a stereotype that makes it easy to identify is as follows;

1. Fending Off Stereotype

In this instance, individuals put in a lot of effort at work or school to show that stereotype does include them. It is usually characterised by high-level performance, which usually results in an impressive level of productivity, however, with a corresponding mental cost. They would keep their personal feelings and aspects hidden and kept away from members of their social identity group just to prove a point.

2. Invigoration

Invigoration occurs when people respond to a stereotype threat by putting in extra effort in a bid to meet their goals. Research in the year 2000 by Oswald and Harvey showed that female maths students shown derogatory images like cartoons about women’s math skills exhibited an increased determination to succeed.

This depicts that when a stereotype threat exists, the stigmatised group makes an almost superhuman effort to break the erroneous beliefs about their identity group. (Bell and Nkomo 2003)In this study, it was discovered an increase in effort among black female executives. One interviewed woman stated, “Black women need to do work that is sterling—not good work, but sterling work.’

Read: Hawthorne Effect: Definition, Implications & Examples

3. Internal attributions

Invigoration leads to high-performance levels; however, sometimes, people fall short of their goals, which could lead to internal attributions, which is blaming oneself for outcomes.

Research how that most people who experience stereotypes blame themselves for adverse outcomes based on the belief that they are not good enough rather than face the fact that the hostile environment is the cause of the negative results.

They take responsibility for issues they have no control over, all in a bid to fend off the stereotype threat.

4. Identity bifurcation

Identity bifurcation is another pointer to the workings of stereotype threat. Identity bifurcation is when individuals mentally dissociate themselves from their social identity due to stereotype threats.

Individuals who do this distance themselves from characteristics associated with their negative stereotype groups. For instance,  men who chose a career in beauty and hair care exhibit effeminate features because it is generally believed that the beauty and hair care profession is for women. In the same manner, women who engaged in STEM-related fields begin to act like tomboys and refuse to give expression to their femininity.

5. Assimilation

It is called assimilation when we observe individuals seeking to adopt the characteristics of a more positively regarded group(Padilla,2008). The attempts to assimilate can be physical, cultural, or social. For instance, negatively stereotyped members of an ethnic group may hide their identity and capitalise on the physical attributes they share in common(skin colour) to get acceptance.

Read: Cobra Effect & Perverse Survey Incentives

Social and cultural integration involves aligning with the customs and attitudes of the socially accepted group and adopting their language.

In a study of African American executives (Andersons,1999), it was discovered that they adapted the behaviour of the positively regarded ethnic group in their organisation, in terms of dressing, appearance, to the kind of car they drove. 

Only on this basis were they accepted and promoted within the organisation.

Choosing the characteristics of an identity group that does not suffer from stereotype threat is believed to raise individual self-esteem and divert the negative assertions associated with belonging to a negatively stereotyped identity group.  

How to Reduce Stereotype Threat 

  • Avoid validating stereotypes when interacting with others

Do not encourage conversations or actions that pose a stereotype threat to others. For instance, if someone says all blonde girls are dumb, shut the conversation down by educating them.

  • Acknowledge the negative effect of stereotype threat

Awareness of the negative impact of stereotype threat would make individuals more empathetic towards groups of people who experience this bias.

  • Assess your prejudice against others

It is easy to play victim, however, be sure that you also do not have any bias against others.

  • Be accountable to yourself

Check your thoughts and actions, and each time you find yourself veering towards a bias, nip it in the bud.

  • Diversify your social connections to include other groups of people

Increasing and diversifying your social connections to include other groups would make individuals more resilient to conversations that suggest a stereotype threat.

  • Get support from family

Surround yourself with family and get their support. Share your thoughts and feelings to get all the encouragement and boost you need to keep showing up each day, no matter what.

  • Always expect the best outcomes

Expect the best and positive outcomes all the time, from people, relationships, and events. Avoid going around with a chip on your shoulder, ready to sniff out the next stereotype threat. This would make people uncomfortable around you.

  • Become an advocate against stereotype threat

Be part of a group that advocates against bias in a positive and cultured manner.

  • Accept your Identity and be proud of what you represent

Self-acceptance is key. Be proud of your heritage and accept your identity wholeheartedly. Carry yourself with dignity; there is beauty in diversity.

  • Surround yourself with positive-minded people

This would ensure that you  always have positive energy around you

Meaning of Stereotype Lift and Stereotype Boost

Stereotype boost theory infers that performance is boosted when individuals are exposed to positive stereotypes.

An example of a stereotype boost is when a group of Asians hear statements like Asians are great at STEM-related careers. This would trigger a boost in their performance.

On the other hand, stereotype lift occurs when a group of people is exposed to negative stereotypes about other groups. This exposure causes a positive lift in their performance.

An example of a stereotype lift is when a group of Indian students is told that they would perform better than Africans because Africans are not good at ballet dancing. The Indian students would perform and experience a positive lift in their community performance. Survey: Types, Importance + [Questionnaire Example

Read: Community Survey: Types, Importance + [Questionnaire Examples]

How Formplus Can Help with Evaluating Stereotypes

Formplus is a software solution that seamlessly facilitates data collection with web forms. Some of the vast offerings of Formplus evaluation templates that can help to gauge stereotypes  are outlined below;





These templates can be used to garner information about the views and opinions of individuals on stereotype threats.

The Formplus survey templates can be tweaked and used to collect data on causes of problems, conflicts, disputes, and stereotype threats.

Formplus forms templates are cloud-based and easy to use. With its easy-to-use kanban style drag and drop builder, the forms can be customised to allow employees, students, and individuals alike to fill in the required information via a link anonymously. The survey results can be accessed in real-time and used to address the forms of stereotype threats experienced, which would positively impact morale and increase productivity.

Try For Free: Employee Attitude Survey Template

With its vast array of evaluation form templates, employers can evaluate employee performance across various touch points. This could provide insight that would show if stereotype threats, boosts, or lifts are experienced in an organisation.

Try For Free: Company Culture Survey Template 

Benefits of Using Fomplus Employee Attitude Surveys 

  • Identify problems and issues arising from stereotypes
  • Assess the organisation’s policies to see if they encourage or discourage stereotypes through feedback via these forms.
  • Motivate and boost morale
  • Some companies conduct their surveys in-house with Formplus. The templates also feature a real-time data analytic function that analyses data on the go and gives organisations access to an unbiased interpretation.
  • With Formplus, organisations can choose the focus of the survey. Formplus is user-friendly and can facilitate collection and analysis efficiently at the click of a button.

Employee attitude and evaluation surveys have significant long-term benefits, and you never know what you might uncover by simply reaching your employees. To get started with the Formplus survey solutions for managing stereotypes, start with any of the customisable evaluation form templates.


Stereotype threats exist and can affect the performance of individuals across various niches. However, specific signals can help organisations identify its existence, and steps can be taken to address it effectively.

  • Formplus Blog
  • on 10 min read


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