Can Stereotypes About Your Age-Related Abilities Impact Your Cognitive Performance? The Influence of Stereotype Threat on First Year College Students and the Elderly

Ian Gackowski, Christine Merola, Julie E. Yonker, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI

Full manuscript: www.kon.org/urc/v10/gackowski.html

Abstract Stereotype threat is activated in contexts where individuals who are members of negatively stereotyped groups are conscious of the content of those stereotypes, and consequently their performance may be negatively affected (e.g., Croizet & Claire, 1998; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Chasteen & Bhattacharyya, 2005). However, encouragement has been shown to combat the effects of stereotype threat (Hess, Auman, Colcombe, & Rahhal, 2003; Good, 2003). This study investigated whether an implicit age related negative perception (stereotype threat) or implicit encouragement would impact cognitive task performance of both first year college students and older adults. First year college students did not demonstrate cognitive performance effects for either stereotype threat or encouragement, however, older adults responded with better performance on a mental rotation task with encouragement.

Introduction The concept of stereotype threat was first defined by the classic social psychology experiment of Steele and Aronson (1995) regarding differences in racial group performance as a result of social influence. Stereotype threat refers to being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group. Research has shown stereotype threat to be generally and widely applicable across a wide variety of conditions including individuals from lower socioeconomic status groups (Croizet & Claire, 1998), women compared to men (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Brown & Josephs, 1999), older adults compared to young adults (Chasteen & Bhattacharyya, 2005; Hess, Colcombe, Rahhal, 2003), and African American college students (Steel & Aronson, 1995).

Full manuscript: www.kon.org/urc/v10/gackowski.html