Analysis of the Impact of Stereotypes on African Americans

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Stereotype threat is the phenomenon of which, when members belonging to a certain social group, feel a sense of pressure in a social situation to conform to one or multiple negative stereotypes concerning their particular social group (Pennington, C. R., Heim, D., Levy, A. R., & Larkin, D. T., 2016). This particular paper shall examine one specific study that examined this topic, a study preformed by Joshua Aronson, Sheana Jannone, Matthew McGlone, and Tanisha Johnson-Campbell (2009), a study that particularly focused on the effects of stereotype threat on African Americans in a traditional standardized test setting in a typical classroom setting. This paper shall also ponder the significance of the study’s findings in the context of other social groups.

Upon Barrack Obama’s election to the position of President of the United States, many were anecdotally claiming that many younger African Americans were outperforming their past academic selves and that many of them were taking a newfound interest in education. One quasi-experimental study in particular, which was preformed by Marx, Ho, & Freidman (2009) raised the possibility of an “Obama effect” in regards to this sudden stream of hearsay evidence, claiming that, just as the narratives themselves said, Obama’s election to Presidency had resulted in African American students preforming better on tests. Aronson et al. (2009) were interested in testing this finding for themselves and whether or not a figure such as Obama, who was viewed as competently and successful as Obama, could reverse the effects of stereotype threat for a social group.

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For their own study, Aronson et al. (2009) preformed a randomized controlled design experiment. Undergraduate students were a mix of Caucasians, African Americans and people of different gender identities. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three versions of a test booklet, which each contained a cover sheet, the experimental manipulation (a survey that prompted participants to think about either Obama, McCain or neither of the two), test instructions and the MCAT.

For students in the Obama condition, three small color photos of Obama were printed on top of the sheet, all of which were chosen to highlight Obama’s success. Photos of a similar nature, but of McCain, were given to participants in the McCain condition. Each condition included quotes from each candidate and, in the control condition, attributed some of these quotes to “an American politician” without any pictures. All students were put in a typical test setting where they silently worked on their exams while being monitored by a proctor.

While Marx’s (2009) African American participants did preform better than Caucasians after Obama was elected, Aronson et al. (2009) claimed that there were no significant interaction within the retrieved data regarding racial identity and the presidential condition. This led to the study’s researchers to become skeptical, but not outright reject, of this supposed Obama Effect. The researchers also stated that, if a positive figure such as Obama was capable of significantly reversing the effects of stereotype threat, Obama might not have been the individual to do so, since it was possible that many participants viewed his list of achievements as unattainable for themselves.

This study has resulted in me contemplating a few things. While Aronson et al. examined the effects of stereotype threat in the contextual lens of African Americans, I cannot help but wonder what a study with a similar design could teach the world about concerning women. This particular thought occurred to me while re-reading the assigned Susan Fiske reading, “Controlling Other People: The Impact of Power on Stereotyping.”

In her essay, Fiske writes about, as the title suggests, stereotypes and how they control members of marginalized communities, even when these individuals fight with every ounce of willpower in their possession to rebel against these offensive notions (Fiske 439). Fiske furthered my curiosity in this hypothetical scenario when she proceeded to describe an anecdote regarding a woman working in a shipyard located in Florida, where she encountered men making jokes or gestures regarding male genitalia and those same men treating their lesser-common female coworkers through teasing, touching, humiliation or several other inappropriate interactions (Fiske 440).

The reason this particular reading from class stood out to me while examining this particular study was because of its scrupulous focus on the aspects of men and women. The Aronson, as well as the Marx et al. (2009), primarily focused upon the factor of racial identity regarding Caucasian Americans and African Americans. However, I am interested as to how such a study regarding racial identity would apply to gender identity. Aronson et al. (2009) concluded that the Obama Effect probably doesn’t exist.

However, what if, instead of Barrack Obama, you replicated this study to that of gender? It would be simple. Rather than have Barrack Obama, John McCain or neither, simply inverse two of the three choices. Let us say, for example that participants, male or female, where forced to contemplate Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin or neither. Or, to counter the argument of Obama seemingly being impossible to compete with in regards to achievement, what if both sexes of the study where asked to write down the most personally inspiring individual to them who also happened to share their own gender identity? Would the results, in our American society, be the same? After all, Aronson et al (2009) only found no significant correlation between members of the Caucasian race and African American race, yet found that the highest scores from highest to lowest ranking were Caucasian men, Caucasian women, African American women and African American men.

Such results, especially in regards to one primarily focused on that of racial identity between Caucasians and African Americans, are very intriguing. What if an alternative study was designed to compare the test results of members belonging to the opposite sex? Would these results be the exact same, somewhat similar, or completely different? Stereotype threat would beg us to assume that men, regardless of racial identity, would score higher than women of the same study. However, this is where the theory of stereotype threat begins to conflict with research, particularly that of the Aronson (2009) study, in which the highest scores were ranked from Caucasian men, Caucasian women, African American women and African American women. Does this mean that racial identity possesses a stronger role than gender identity when it comes to stereotype threat? Also, what results would a study of a similar nature regarding social economic status produce? More research needs to be conducted regarding this specific topic.

Another reading that I believe to be relevant to this particular study was “La Güera” by Cherrie Moraga. In this piece, Moraga describes to the reader in which she, a gay woman, had a discussion with a friend of hers that was a gay man. The gay male friend confessed to possessing a fear of her, that she would kill him if the world decided to have some kind of apocalyptic battle of the sexes. Moraga claims that, if such an apocalyptic situation were to occur, she might have ended his life. This acknowledgement of hers then leads to a confession of her male friend, who admits he cannot imagine being a woman without feeling “raped” by men (Moraga 599). This anecdote of Moraga’s then leads into her Moraga confessing to the reader that she herself, despite being a lesbian feminist, contains homophobia regarding herself, which has resulted in self-hatred directed at herself for her own sexually orientation.

This essay made me contemplate the Aronson study through the lens of sexual orientation. What if we preformed a similar study, but with people of varying sexual orientation, such as heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality? Also, let us say that each of these three sexual orientation groups were equal when it came to social economic status and racial identity. What if, while all of these attributes were statistically equal, and LGBQT+ icons, such as Harvey Milk, Alan Turning, Ellen Paige, Laverne Cox, etc. Would preforming similar studies where we presented prominent figures of such communities grant us similar or different results? Or would it result in similar irrelevant results as the Aaronson (2009) study did?

While this study singularly focused on the issue of race, specifically that of Caucasians and African Americans, there are dozens of studies that could benefit from this structure such as studies comparing higher-social economic status to lower social economic status, gay men to lesbian women, men to women, etc.

While the Obama Effect doesn’t appear to be replicable, as in the case of the Aronson (2009) study, there still is an opportunity for other social groups. We must use this specific format on other social groups, whether these said groups are of racial, sexual orientation, gender identity.

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Analysis of the Impact of Stereotypes on African Americans. (2022, Jun 27). Retrieved from

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