Stereotype Threat and the Psychology of Achievement Gaps: Causes and Solutions to Student Underperformance
Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, Columbia University
This address uses the psychologist’s toolbox to understand why certain schools and workplaces cause students to underperform relative to their potential and what interventions combat underperformance. Environments like work or school can trigger stereotype threat for students from under-represented groups – an added stress from the possibility of being seen through the lens of negative stereotypes, rather than being accepted equally as individuals. The cumulative toll of contending with such a threat, repeatedly and over long periods of time, can threaten students’ sense that they can meet the demands of the environment. Performance and health can suffer as a consequence. This framework helps to explain intergroup disparities across a wide range of outcomes, including education (e.g., gender and racial achievement gaps) and health (e.g., racial health disparities) that have tended to be studied in isolation. This framework also provides concrete strategies for psychological interventions that target stress associated with stereotypes and bias. When well-timed and supported by environmental structures, these strategies help buffer students against the cumulative costs of stereotype threat.
Valerie Purdie-Vaughns is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Columbia University. Previously she served on the faculty at Yale University. She graduated from Columbia University in 1993 and completed her doctorate at Stanford University in 2004 as a student of Dr. Claude Steele. Dr. Purdie-Vaughns is an expert on racial and gender achievement gaps in academic and workplace settings and how stigma undermines intellectual performance. She also conducts research on other forms of stigma including: stigma and LGBTQ groups, stigma of mental illness, and stigma based on multiple identities (intersectionality). Valerie has authored numerous publications that have appeared in journals such as Science, Psychological Science, and the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. She has been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation, W.T. Grant Foundation and the Department of Education. She is also a regular guest on National Public Radio (NPR) as a psychology consultant on The Takeaway. As a true believer in the power of psychology to effect social change she regularly consults with universities, corporations and federal agencies about how diversity works “on the ground.”