Banner Image : 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 context where might 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 and cause us to behave or perform in a way that confirms those beliefs. If an individual or group of people become anxious about the negative stereotypes that exist about them, they experienced stereotype threat and this can have a restrictive capacity on their ability to perform at their maximum level.
The diagram below by Alison Leach explains the process…

Image: The cognitive process model or stereotype threat

It was Claude Steele and Josh Aronson who first used the term ‘stereotype threat’ in their study in 1995. They thought that distraction, narrowed attention, anxiety, self-consciousness, withdrawal of effort and over-effort could all come into play.

Watch Stereotype Threat: A Conversation with Claude Steele from 1.44

Why is this important for us here at UAL?

To help create a sense of belonging and identity safety, it is important to be able to relate to and recognise, aspects of our identity in role models, teachers and the reading lists. Students from BA (Hons) Sounds Arts and Design at London College of Communication critiqued this though the visualisation of their reading list to challenge, what they called, a ‘pale, male and stale’ curriculum. Watch it at this link:

SAD boys screenshot 001 SAD boys screenshot 002 SAD boys screenshot 003

How can we promote identity safety?

In his article Understanding Stereotype Threat, Arif Mahmud, Senior Project Officer for Changing Mindsets at the University of Portsmouth offers a list of ways that research suggests can help students persevere in spite of stereotype threat:

Read about the UAL Creative Mindsets Workshop with Grayson Perry where we explored stereotypes in an art and design context.
Image: workshop with Grayson Perry


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


  • Aronson, J., & Williams, J. (2004). Stereotype threat: Forewarned is forearmed. Unpublished manuscript, New York University, New York
  • Cohen, G. L., Steele, C. M., & Ross, L. D. (1999). The mentor’s dilemma: Providing critical feedback across the racial divide. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin25(10), 1302-1318.
  • Johns, M., Schmader, T., & Martens, A. (2005). Knowing is half the battle: Teaching stereotype threat as a means of improving women’s math performance. Psychological Science16(3), 175-179.
  • Marx, D. M., & Roman, J. S. (2002). Female role models: Protecting women’s math test performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin28(9), 1183-1193.
  • Pronin, E., Steele, C. M., & Ross, L. (2004). Identity bifurcation in response to stereotype threat: Women and mathematics. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology40(2), 152-168.
  • Schmader, T., & Johns, M. (2003). Converging evidence that stereotype threat reduces working memory capacity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 440-452.
  • Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of personality and social psychology69(5), 797.
  • Steele, Dorothy, Cohn-Vargas, Becki. Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn. 14 April 2014.