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A Behavior Analytic Account of Stereotype Threat
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Although behavior analysis has contributed substantially to the understanding and study of learning in humans, cultural influences are often either overlooked or not accounted for in how they impact individuals in their day-to-day lives. One example in which this has occurred is in accounting for stereotypes. The field of Social Psychology has contributed a significant body of research on stereotypes and discusses in detail the conditions under which individuals are likely to be impacted by stereotypes. One common finding, often referred to as stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995), refers to how stereotypes can negatively impact individual performances under certain testing conditions. While data on stereotype threat indicates a clear pattern of decreases in performance scores for individuals in the threatened group, studies on stereotype threat have not examined: 1) whether stereotype threat occurs when arbitrary, non-stereotyped tasks are presented, 2) trends in individual data, or 3) how each individual is impacted by threat, lift, and neutral statements across similar tests. In addition, although researchers have offered many assumptions why stereotype threat occurs, none have evaluated the function of language in stereotype threat (c.f., Relational Frame Theory; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001). The current study aimed to examine whether stereotype threat and stereotype lift by group affiliation (i.e., gender) would occur on an arbitrary, computer-based memory test and if other test-taking behaviors were affected by performance differences across four studies. Results indicated overall patterns consistent with the research base. Typical stereotype threat and lift patterns emerged more frequently when longer scripts were provided to participants prior to testing.