Stereotype Threat

by Roger Clegg

An interesting experiment has found that independent observers rated companies significantly lower when they were told the top executives were African-American graduates of prestigious universities, instead of white. The difference went away when the executives were said to have graduated from less selective schools, and when the evaluators were told that the more selective schools exercised race-blind admissions. That is, the study suggests that people assume minority candidates receive preferential treatment at more selective schools and discount their professional skills as a result.

“If these people were at average-prestige schools, no problem. There’s no expectancy problem,” said one of the study’s authors. “But when people see an African-American face and a prestigious institution, there is an implicit assumption that those two characteristics are linked, and they are linked through preferential practices.” Of course, that people would make such assumptions is commonsensical, and opponents of racial preferences have warned about it for years. Still, it’s nice to be able to point to this experiment now, too.

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