Stereotype threat occurs when people confront the possibility that their own behavior could confirm a negative stereotype about a group to which they belong. The fear associated with confirming an unwanted stereotype can prevent a person from performing up to his or her true potential, and when this occurs for many members of a stigmatized group, the average performance of the group is decreased, creating the appearance that the group lacks ability in that domain.

Stereotype threat research helps to explain long-observed gender and racial differences in performance, particularly in standardized testing. These persistent gaps in performance have fueled an ongoing controversy over whether race differences in IQ scores or sex differences in math performance are due to environmental factors, such as socioeconomic disadvantages or a ...

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