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Brain, Education, and Inquiry - Fall, 2010: Session 14B

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, Education, and Inquiry

Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2010

Session 14C

Facilitated by epeck, LizJ, bennett

Stereotypes and Stereotype Threat




Your continuing thoughts about this and its relation to the classroom in the forum below ....





Ameneh's picture

I think its interesting how

I think its interesting how just thinking about a stereotype can make us embody it. But I also think it can be used as a bit of an excuse, maybe even an easy way out, like you don't have to try hard enough. I've never been too great at math. But maybe it isn't that thinking I was bad at math made me be bad at it, maybe it was just that I knew it would be an easier thing to do if I could just blame the stereotype than myself for not trying hard enough.

Angela DiGioia's picture

Self-fulfilling the notion of stereotypes?

The most interesting part of this discussion was that all of the men in the class went to the math group.  To me, this was quite interesting since no one commented on it, yet we were fulfilling a certain stereotype as a class.  All of the women went to the literature and biology groups, which are presumed to be more right brain activities than math, which is presumed to be more of a left brain activity.  After the fact, all of them men said that they enjoyed math more than the other two subjects, which is why they chose that group, and dismissed the fact that all of them went to that group. However, I think that there is great value in examining this more.  Although this stereotype is dated (as epeck points out above), how do stereotypes change?  Will it take a generation or two for this to change?  Another outdated stereotype that comes to mind which has not been completely shaken in society is that a man staying at home with the children and a woman being the main breadwinner in a family is socially acceptable.  It is still laden with eyebrow raising and some questioning about the man's masculinity (I'm vastly generalizing here).  Point being, I agree that many stereotypes are outdated, but when and what makes them obsolete?  I think that relying on statistics about the numbers of women CEOs, scores on SATs, college acceptance and enrollment rates, etc is not completely accurate because it doesn't paint a full picture, but I'm not sure what else we have as a society to indicate the changing of a previously held stereotype. 

simonec's picture

 To me, one of the most

 To me, one of the most engaging parts of this discussion is not how we stereotype others, but how our own internalization of stereotypes can affect the ways that we interact with others, and more specifically with our own educations. 

The experiment about how marking ones race can make the results for African-American SAT scores lower is horrifying, and I wonder how we can target the process of internalization. Judging people (to a certain level) is natural - however a mechanism for disregarding said stereotypes would be instructive. 

I wonder what things I believe about myself have to do with reality, and what has to do with what I was constantly told about my own performance. I have been told that I am number-minded, so I don't try very hard at math... I was told that I am a fast runner so in soccer games I would take risks, emboldened by the speed that others recognized... did this MAKE me faster? did this MAKE me worse at math?

ellenv's picture

 I think a central question

 I think a central question of this class was what makes an individual the way they are (brain? society?) and the implications that this question in the educational field. I think internalization is a very large factor in the creation of an individual. In school, there is the opportunity for the internalization of many stereotypes, social/cultural roles etc. The problem that comes from this is that students run into these internalization factors inside and outside of the classroom. So, even if schools try to downplay these stereotype threats, it is possible for students to run into them outside of the classroom and then bring them into the classroom with them. I dont think this means that schools should try any less to get rid of these stereotype threats, just a thought that the threats that exist within the school system might not be entirely contained to that domain. 

skindeep's picture

i agree

i agree, talking about how we internalize stereotypes brought up a lot of questions for me.

while it was shocking to hear what the implications for taking on stereotypes and acting in the manner dictated by them, it made me wonder how much value that had. for example, my parents and teachers always told me that i was a pretty sensitive kid - they thought things affected and upset me easily. the only effect of this on me however, was that for a while i cried very easily in front of my parents. it did not make things affect me any more, it did not make me care about things that i didnt, it didnt get me upset any more often. eventually, they realized that i wasnt in fact sensitive, and while that realisation changed the way they acted, it didnt change anything for me.

so while i grew up expecting to be sensitive and wimpy, all i could do was act in that way - i cried easier. but it didnt make me any more sensitive. in the same manner, a friend of mine is south indian - their stereotype is that they are good at math, and she tried for years, but couldnt do it. do while she grew up believing that she was good at it and could excel at it, nothing she did could help her be average in math. numbers didnt make sense to her, and eventually her family and teachers had to accept that.

so while i see how internalizing a stereotype can change the way you act and think, i do not think that it can change things about your character. does this mean that we are inherently better at some things? maybe. but that does not imply that only that one thing should be cultivated.

LinKai_Jiang's picture

We always see things through

We always see things through some kind of schema of the world for convenience and efficiency. It is not always bad to form a stereotype of the things and people you want to know about. Frankly, I find it incredibly useful to be able to judge the kinds of person that I should avoid either because they might be dangerous or unwelcoming. But one should be rightly concerned that convenience and efficiency are not good reasons to stereotype people unjustly, as it happens very often in educational settings as it does in society in general. Noble as the concern is, it doesn't make sense to demand rigorous mental attention in every possible stereotype. It would simply be too taxing mentally to fully examine every thought and action to make sure that they do not stereotype unjustly. In fact I think we can stereotype justly, not only in the sense of making sure that we are getting things right but also in the sense of providing a "positive" stereotype. 








epeck's picture

I agree that stereotypes are

I agree that stereotypes are very useful and although the term is thrown around as such a negative thing, the ability to form stereotypes is valuable.  So, when I first learned about stereotype threat I also was sort of unsure how to approach the idea.  I think the key for me was realizing that some stereotypes are basically dated.  For example, the common stereotype (that Angela brought up in class) that men are inherently better at math than women seems very dated to me, and also not very useful - however stereotypes tend to hang around, and so I think a lot of people still think about men and women as having somewhat polar mental abilities.  Then there's the issue of paying attention to every stereotype in the classroom, which is also probably impossible.  I think the solution for this can be simple and can just consist of teaching students that they are individuals and are prepared for a task which they may face, despite the stereotype which may tell them otherwise.  In many articles about stereotype threat, "solutions" include:

-attributing a student's stress to a task, rather than a stereotype ("this task may be difficult because you're uncomfortable with the material, not because you'll do worse than another group based on x stereotype")

-teaching students about stereotype threat

-confirming a student's abilities

-providing role models that defy stereotypes

-never stressing a stereotype

and many other possible solutions.  So - I think yes, stereotypes definitely help us identify who is safe/dangerous, what group we may get along with, and many other useful things, but the real issue is those stereotypes that have been propagated but are not useful or true.  I think it also goes back to what Prof. Grobstein said about self-identity influencing ability.

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