Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat is a social-psychological predicament that can arise from widely-known negative stereotypes about one’s group… [We] argue that it is experienced, essentially, as a self-evaluative threat. …When the allegations of the stereotype are importantly negative, this predicament may be self-threatening enough to have disruptive effects of its own.
(Steele and Aronson , 1995)

When we are in a situation where we anticipate being judged on the basis of an aspect of our identity that can be negatively stereotyped (and we care about the situation) this can activate stereotype threat. If an individual becomes anxious about the negative stereotypes that exist about them, this can have a restrictive capacity on their ability to perform at their maximum level. Claude Steele and Josh Aronson first used the term ‘stereotype threat’ in their study in 1995. You can watch the film below (from 1:44) to find out more.

Stereotype Threat: A Conversation with Claude Steele 

In the Creative Mindset workshops, we explore the concepts of stereotyping and stereotype threat and consider this within a higher education creative arts context. We invited Grayson Perry, UAL Chancellor, to take part in an event which you can read about here: UAL Changing Mindsets Workshop with Grayson Perry. Grayson spoke about the inhibiting ‘internal stereotype’ – a self-imposed, embodied stereotype of “not for the likes of me (or) people from ‘my’ background”.

Image of Grayson Perry at UAL Changing Mindsets Workshop (Photo credit: Vikki Hill, 2018)

In the short films below, staff and Alumni speaks about their own experiences as students and lecturers at university. They share their approaches to understanding and challenging stereotype threat through curriculum design, relationships and creative practice.

Andrew Slatter: Embedding into the Curriculum

Andrew Slatter (Senior Lecturer and Contextual and Theoretical Studies Coordinator for Year 1 GMD, LCC, UAL) speaks about how to design a curriculum to respond to stereotype threat and bias.

Lucy Panesar: Reflections from a Fine Art graduate

Lucy Panesar (Progression and Attainment Project Manager, LCC, UAL) speaks about her own experience as a Fine Art student with Indian heritage studying on a predominantly white course.

Merve Kasrat: Stereotyping

Merve (Alumni, MA Design, Ceramics, Central Saint Martins, UAL) has been exploring stereotypes in her ceramics work and speaks about the importance of challenging stereotypes to create social cohesion.

To help create a sense of belonging it is important to be able to challenge stereotypes, to relate to (and recognise) aspects of our identity in role models, teachers and the curriculum. In his blog post Understanding Stereotype Threat, Dr Arif Mahmud, Lecturer in the School of Education at Roehampton University offers suggestions that can help alleviate the impact of stereotype threat. Some further ideas are listed below:

Encourage a growth mindset

Develop inclusive teaching and assessment design

Provide diverse role models

Decolonise the curriculum

Support students sense of belonging

Promote multilingualism in higher education

Further reading and resources:

The danger of a single story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about the importance of rejecting the ‘single story’ about people and places to gain a fuller and deeper understanding of other’s experiences.

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time) by Claude M. Steele (2010)

Claude Steele offers a vivid first-person account of the research that supports his groundbreaking conclusions on stereotypes and identity. 

New Model Minority – Mo-Ling Chui (2018)

Read the booklet that accompanied the New Model Minority exhibition:

The title is a play on the ‘model minority’ narrative which carries connotations that East Asians are uniformly hard-working, compliant, perhaps apolitical, achievement oriented and economically upwardly mobile. These kind of notions, even if ‘positive stereotypes’ or exotifications, tend to one-dimensionalise and overlook wildly diverse communities, cultures, politics, histories, identities and experiences.

You can listen to the curators interviews here;