DS0802 -

Stereotype threat and aggressive reaction – STAR

The effects of stereotype threat on aggressive behavior

The present research aims to investigate the link between stereotype threat and aggression. Is aggression a possible consequence of stereotype threat? If yes, is aggression likely to be observed among members of groups stereotyped as relatively more aggressive or among all individuals? Furthermore, the present research will try to shed light on underlying mechanisms explaining the effect of stereotype threat on aggression, namely aggressive thoughts, emotions, and self-regulation.

To determine the effects of stereotype threat on aggression and to shed light on the mediating mechanisms.

This project aims to determine the effects of stereotype threat on aggressive reactions (thoughts, emotions, behavior). Stereotype threat refers to the apprehension, fear or anxiety that individuals may have when they find themselves in situations where their behavior or performance could be judged using the (negative) stereotype of their group (Steele & Aronson, 1995). The literature on the subject has shown that stereotype threat leads to deleterious consequences, particularly in terms of academic performance (e.g., Spencer, Steele & Quinn, 1999). However, there is little research on the potential consequences of stereotype threat beyond performance. We hypothesized that stigmatized individuals may exhibit hostile behaviors in response to an evaluative situation experienced as threatening. Thus, we were interested in determining the extent to which aggression may be a consequence of the effects of stereotype threat and may, in stigmatized individuals in threatening situations, activate aggressive thoughts, elicit aggression-related emotions, and increase aggressive behaviors. Understanding aggression as a consequence of stereotype threat may explain why certain groups show a higher tendency for antisocial behaviors leading to social and legal consequences.

In order to test the effects of stereotype threat on aggression, and to shed light on the mediating mechanisms, the experimental methodology was used. In 9 experiments carried out with 1524 participants, the consequences of stereotype threat were investigated. To this end, the participants were asked to perform a task allegedly to measure their performance. In order to induce a situation of stereotype threat, these tests were presented to the participants as measuring a skill that is negatively associated with their group's stereotype (e.g., women's math skills). Following the threat, participants' emotions, cognitive functioning, and aggressive behaviors were measured and compared to participants who were not exposed to a threatening situation in order to test its effects.
In addition, two correlational studies with 685 participants were conducted to highlight the stereotypes associated with the social groups studied in this project.

The main results of this work indicate that stereotype threat can generate aggressive reactions among stigmatized individuals. Moreover, these aggressive reactions are more likely when the threat is directed towards the self. Despite the fact that individuals in a threatening situation showed a decrease in certain cognitive performances, we could not observe any deleterious effects of the stereotype threat situation on aggressive thoughts, cognitive control capacities, or emotions. Finally, an updated analysis of the stereotype associated with French of Arab origin indicates that a central dimension of the stereotype of this group includes aggressiveness and violence.

The present research has found mixed results in answer to the question of the relationship between stereotype threat and aggression. Although we found that stereotype threats could increase aggressive reactions, these results were not corroborated by successive replications. Furthermore, the explanatory mechanisms of stereotype threat remain to be elucidated, as the emotional and cognitive processes investigated in the present work are certainly insufficient to account for the various consequences generated by stereotype threat situations. Nevertheless, this project has led to significant theoretical and methodological advances in this field of research. At the theoretical level, the work carried out on different populations has highlighted the importance of the social status of the groups studied. Indeed, if stereotype threat can be experienced by everyone according to the negative stereotypes of our own group, it seems that these effects require a societal anchoring to significantly impact individuals. Methodologically, the difficulties encountered early in the project in developing stereotype-threat induction tasks and behavioral measures of aggression in the laboratory led us to develop and improve robust experimental procedures for studying social behavior in the laboratory.
This work extends the understanding of psychosocial factors involved in the emission of aggressive behavior by investigating how ego-threat can generate aversive responses. Although fragile, these initial results allow us to consider new research perspectives aimed at specifying the role of self-perception in understanding aggressive reactions.

The entire program has so far resulted in five scientific communications in major conferences of the discipline as well as two conferences for larger audiences. In addition, an article presenting the studies on the stereotype content update has been submitted, and two articles on the main results of the project are in preparation.

The present research aims to investigate the link between stereotype threat and aggressive reactions. Stereotype threat refers to the apprehension, fear or anxiety that individuals may have when they find themselves in situations where their behavior or performance could be judged using the (negative) stereotype of their group. A black person, for instance, may experience this threat when he or she has to complete a task presented as an intelligence test, as this may activate the stereotype that Blacks are less intelligent than Whites. Studies have shown that the perception of this threat leads to a decrease in real performance of the individual members.

The present research examines aggressive reactions as a possible consequence of stereotype threat. With few exceptions, past studies have focused on the effects of stereotype threat on performance. Yet, as Shapiro and Neuberg (2007) proposed, stereotype threat may have negative consequences in domains other than performance on a test. We wish to investigate whether stereotype threat may also activate thoughts related to aggression, emotions associated with aggression and aggressive behaviors in individuals who perceive/experience the threat.

To illustrate, imagine students from a low Socio Economic background who have to take a standardized test. The stereotype of low SE students having low(er) intellectual abilities (Croizet & Claire, 1998) may be salient and induce apprehension that they will be judged according to the negative stereotype of their group. This could lead to a performance that is lower than otherwise would have been when the threat is not perceived. However, the students may also display aggressive behaviors such as kicking the desk and pushing another student on the way out, have more aggressive thoughts such as harming the teacher or insulting another student and feel aggression-related emotions such as anger. It is these consequences that we will look at, which extend the impact of stereotype threat beyond performance per se. Since stereotype threat has been evoked as possibly having wide ranging consequences (from performance on a single test to career choices of individuals, see Steele & Aronson, 1995), it is indeed surprising that little work has been devoted to other possible negative consequences, unrelated to performance, of the threat.

In this research, we aim to examine the following questions: Is aggression a possible consequence of stereotype threat? If yes, is aggression likely to be observed among members of groups stereotyped as relatively more aggressive or among all individuals experiencing stereotype threat and thus represents a more general response? Furthermore, we aim to determine if specific emotions mediate aggressive reaction to stereotype threats, via the manipulation of the types of stereotype threat. Specifically, emotions that result may differ if an individual perceives himself or herself as the target of threat (i.e., that their performance indicates they themselves are characterized by the stereotypical characteristic of their group) vs the group as the target (i.e., that their performance will contribute to the negative reputation of their group as a whole). The perception of the self as target of threat is likely to lead to fear-related emotions, whereas the perception of the group as target is likely to lead to anger-related emotions. It is probable that aggressive reaction is associated with the perception of group as target, and mediated by the emotion anger that this situations evokes in individuals.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Baptiste Subra (Université de Bordeaux)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


EA4139 Université de Bordeaux

Help of the ANR 147,674 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2016 - 36 Months

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