Post-Performance Activation: No Longer an Afterthought

by Jesse Bogacz, Kenyon ’18

Stereotypes and racism have plagued the United States since it’s founding.  At the core of stereotypes is the desire for one group to marginalize and minimize those who are different from them.  To not allow for the acknowledgment of these groups as “normal” and as capable as the ruling group, white men.  Naturally, researchers have devoted a lot of time to studying the effects of stereotypes on the mental health of minorities.  However, a predominant amount of these studies have focused on simply the effects of stereotypes.  Hardly any tests have focused on post-performance activation.  The researchers Thiem, Stuart, Barden, and Evans decided to focus on the effects of stereotypes after participants were given an intellectual test.  The comparisons of the participants’ evaluations would be the base of their research. The researchers also drew upon the self-validation hypothesis, which states that individuals are more likely to change their opinions after seeing evidence against their stance.

The study took place in three steps.  A group of people, who were chosen based on minority status in order to make sure each group had the correct ratio of the selected minority to other people.  They all took some sort of intellectual test that was previously determined to be hard to answer correctly.  At the completion of the test, half of the group, which was chosen again to fit ratios, went directly onto post-test evaluation of how they did.  This half of the group would be used as a control group for the specific test.  The other half was then taken individually and first asked questions that fulfilled stereotypes that were apparent to them.  After these participants were made aware of these stereotypes, directly after taking the test, they were sent to post-test evaluation.  The results were very consistent.  In studies 1,2,4, and 5, women perceived themselves to have performed worse than men on the math test.  They were not asked to compare their individual performances to any other woman or man.  However, collectively, the group of women who went through the activation stage reported to have done worse than the men and women who only took the test.  In test 3, African Americans who went through the activation stage reported doing worse than those who did only took the math test.  In test 6, the same thing happened with men and a childcare test.

To provide a little more in-depth look, I will discuss study one and study six in more detail.  In the first study, 132 women and 150 men participated in a study from a large Midwestern university. They completed a hard math test.  Half of the group then was asked to rate their performance as either poor or strong.  The other half was first asked to identify whether they were male or female. Then they were asked to evaluate their performance as poor or strong.  The results showed that “women who perceived their performance to be poor were more certain of this evaluation when gender was made salient” (Clark, Thiem, Barden, Stuart, & Evans, 2015, p. 534).  In the sixth study, the researchers switched the topic from math in order to see if the activation had similar effects.  In this study, 223 women and 143 men took an extremely difficult test on infant care.  It was designed to be very difficult in order to create as many negative reactions as possible.  After the test, half of the group was asked to rate their performance on a scale from 1-11 with one being extremely poorly.  The other half was shown a message saying that men generally tend to score lower on infant care tests.  The results showed that men, who had seen the message, had greater certainty of poor performance than those who did not.

Although this study produced very conclusive results, there were also some major limitations.  First and foremost, the tests were designed to be very hard.  This gave the best chance for activation after hopefully creating negative feelings towards the tests on behalf of the participants.  However, this made it much more difficult to find a consensus of those who actually did well on any of the tests.  For example, studies 1 and 6 actually showed differences in the groups being tested before evaluation.  In the future, the researchers might want to break down the tests into easy, medium and hard categories and randomly assign them to participants.  Another issue was that most of the effect the stereotypes had was indirect even though the researchers were looking for direct and total effects on performance/evaluations.

References

Clark, J. K., Thiem, K. C., Barden, J., Stuart, J. O. R., & Evans, A. T. (2015). Stereotype validation: The effects of activating negative stereotypes after intellectual performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology108(4), 531-552.

Major, B., Spencer, S., Schmader, T., Wolfe, C., & Crocker, J. (1998). Coping with negative stereotypes about intellectual performance: The role of psychological disengagement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin24(1), 34-50.

 

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