Cross-posted at The Russell Sage Foundation.
Claude Steele and his colleagues have found ample evidence of “stereotype threat” in test-taking situations. Stereotype threat occurs when people worry that poor performance on a task will inadvertently confirm a negative stereotype applied to the group to which they belong. Their worry depresses performance, thus creating outcomes consistent with the stereotype. Stereotype threat depresses the performance of high-achieving African American students on difficult verbal tests as well as accomplished female math students on difficult math tests.
Not all stereotypes are negative, however, suggesting that certain stereotypes might also enhance performance. With Min Zhou, I looked into how the stereotype that Asian Americans students are particularly smart and high achieving — as illustrated in this TIMEmagazine cover from 1987 — might shape their performances.
We argue that Asian American students benefit from a “stereotype promise”—the promise of being viewed through the lens of a positive stereotype that leads one to perform in such a way that confirms the positive stereotype, thereby enhancing performance. The Chinese- and Vietnamese-Americans students we studied described how their teachers assumed that they were smart, hard-working, and high-achieving, which affected the way that their teachers treated them, the grades they received, and their likelihood of being placed into the most competitive academic tracks, like Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors. For many students, stereotype promise exerted an independent effect, and boosted performance.
For example, Ophelia is a 23 year-old second-generation Vietnamese woman who described herself as “not very intelligent” and recalls nearly being held back in the second grade. By her account, “I wasn’t an exceptional student; I was a straight C student, whereas my other siblings, they were quicker than I was, and they were straight A students.”
Despite Ophelia’s C average, she took the AP exam at the end of junior high school, and not surprisingly, failed. Nevertheless, she was placed into the AP track in high school, but once there, something “just clicked,” and Ophelia began to excel in her classes. When we asked her to explain what she meant by this, she elaborated, “I wanted to work hard and prove I was a good student,” and also added, “I think the competition kind of increases your want to do better.” She graduated from high school with a GPA of 4.2, and was admitted into a highly competitive pharmacy program.
Once she was placed in a more challenging setting, then, where teachers’ expectations and peer performance were elevated, she benefited from stereotype promise. Ophelia did not believe at the outset that she was academically exceptional or deserving of being in the AP track (especially because she earned straight C’s in junior high school and failed the AP exam), but once anointed as academically exceptional and deserving, the stereotype promise exerted an independent effect that encouraged her to try harder and prove that she was a good student, and ultimately enhanced her performance. While it is impossible to know how Ophelia’s academic performance would have differed had she stayed on the school’s “regular track,” that she was given the opportunity to meet her potential attests to the advantage that Asian American students are accorded in the context of U.S. schools.
In future research, I plan to study in what institutional contexts “stereotype promise” may emerge, for which groups, and in what domains. For example, males may benefit from stereotype promise in certain occupational niches where stereotypes about gender and performance prevail.
Jennifer Lee is a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, specializing in intersection of immigration and race and ethnicity. She wrote, with Frank Bean, a book called The Diversity Paradox, that examines patterns of intermarriage and multiracial identification among Asians, Latinos, and African Americans.
Read a Q&A on with Jennifer Lee about “stereotype promise” at the Russell Sage Foundation.
Is Online Gaming Messing Up Your Marriage?
Role-playing games like World of Warcraft allow players to become buff, sword-yielding warriors online — which helps explain why dedicated gamers can while away hours in front of their computer screens. But a new study shows that players’ commitment to virtual reality has real-world consequences: it can negatively affect marital satisfaction.
Of course, it’s hardly surprising that excessive video gaming might make your partner unhappy — but it’s not for the reason you’d think. Brigham Young University researchers found that it wasn’t necessarily the long hours spent online that spouses had a problem with. Rather, they got upset when gaming caused offline arguments and particularly when a spouse’s excessive gaming interfered with the couple’s bedtime routine: couples who did not go to bed at the same time reported less marital satisfaction.
“It’s not the hours that make a difference,” said Neil Lundberg, one of the researchers and a recreation-management professor at Brigham Young, in a statement. ”It’s really what it does to the relationship — whether or not it creates conflict and quarreling over the game.”
For the study, published in the Journal of Leisure Research, researchers surveyed 349 married gamers: in 132 couples, only one person gamed — 84% of the time it was the husband. In the other 217 couples, both partners gamed, but in cases where one person played more than the other, it was again the husband 73% of the time. On average, the study respondents were 33 years old and had been married seven years. (Previous research has found that more than a third of players of multiplayer online role-playing games are married; 22% have kids — how they have the time to game is beyond us.)
Overall, researchers found that 75% of gamers’ spouses wished they would put more effort into their marriage, and when one person spent a lot more time gaming than the other, it usually led to dissatisfaction and arguing. Like any other activity that gets in the way of couples’ intimacy and family time, gaming had the same effect.
Researchers were surprised to discover, however, that for couples in which both partners played, 76% reported that gaming was actually good for their marriage. Interacting with one another’s avatars online led to higher marital satisfaction in real life, the study found — as long as both people were happy with their mutual participation. Interestingly, couples who gamed on the same team were less likely to report being satisfied than those who played on separate teams — possibly in part because more advanced gamers got frustrated when their less skillful spouses couldn’t keep up.
“We didn’t realize that there was a whole group of couples who game together,” said Lundberg. “In those gaming couples where the marital satisfaction was low, the same issues existed. For example, if they argued about gaming and bedtime rituals were interrupted, even though they gamed together, they still had lower marital-satisfaction scores.”
The researchers also suggest that gamers’ marital dissatisfaction could potentially be a bigger problem than the study found, since many gamers declined to participate in the study.
“This study really does verify that gaming has an effect on marital satisfaction,” Lundberg said. “It’s not just a random occurrence that a few couples are dealing with.”