Examining the Role of Anxiety Avoidance in the Effect of Stereotype Threat on Working Memory Capacity

by Johns, Michael.

Abstract (Summary)
Describing a test as a measure of an ability certain groups are stereotyped to lack can hurt the performance of members of those groups. Steele and his colleagues call this effect stereotype threat (1997; Steele & Aronson, 1995; Steele, Spencer, & Aronson, 2002). Now well established, less is known about how stereotype threat reduces performance. The studies described in this dissertation were designed to follow up on past research showing that stereotype threat reduces performance by constraining working memory (Schmader & Johns, 2003). The primary hypothesis is that people experiencing stereotype threat devote cognitive resources that would normally be used for task performance to trying to avoid feelings of anxiety. In the first study, women completed an implicit reaction time measure of anxiety and a measure of working memory capacity under stereotype threat or non-stereotype threat conditions. The implicit measure was described as either related or unrelated to anxiety. The results revealed that women under stereotype threat showed evidence of increased anxiety when the implicit measure was described in neutral terms. However women in this condition showed evidence of anxiety avoidance when it was described as a measure of anxiety. Performance on the implicit measure was also correlated with stereotype threat-induced reductions in working memory. The second study tested whether eliminating the need to avoid feeling anxious would increase working memory. Caucasian and Latino participants completed the same implicit measure and working memory task under conditions that have been shown to create stereotype threat for Latinos. Half the participants were told that anxiety would not harm their performance on an intelligence 9 test and the remaining participants were not given any information about the effect of anxiety on performance. The results showed that informing Latino participants that anxiety would not harm performance reduced anxiety avoidance on the implicit measure and also improved their working memory. However, anxiety avoidance was not correlated with working memory reductions. The results of these studies provide evidence that anxiety avoidance might be one factor that contributes to the effect of stereotype threat on test performance. Limitations of these studies and suggestions for future research are discussed. 10
Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Arizona

School Location:USA - Arizona

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:

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