Reactivity in Testing: Attribution to Failure or Success in Testing

Reactivity in Testing:

Attribution to Failure or Success in Testing

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Aronson and Inzlicht, discuss two experimental tests that were conducted by utilizing African-American and white undergraduate students in relation to the GRE verbal test questions and perceived stereotyping.  Before the first test, the African-American students were asked whether or not they believed that they were expected to be judged on negative stereotyping due to their ethnicity.  After concluding which students believed there to be a bias in testing, all students were asked to complete sections of the GRE verbal portion and were told to rate the accuracy of their answers.  Both white and black students, who did not both expect nor report a possible stereotype bias performed equally well in their performance and their assessments, in other words, when these students had indicated that their answers were correct, more times than not they had indicated this and vice versa.  Conversely, the students who believed that there was a bias performed more poorly and were more consistently incorrect on their assessments (believing that there answers were correct, when they were not).  The second experiment lasted over an eight day period, where all students were asked how efficient they felt in academics, athletics, and self-esteem.  The noted outcome here is that only the students, who felt stereotyped, showed variability in their efficiency and this efficiency was only in the area of academics and not the other two.


All counselors should be alert to the possibility of perceived bias in their clients, due to ethnicity, gender, or any status that might qualify as minority.  Therefore, before any work on other issues can be done, the so-called “elephant in the room” must be dealt with.  Counselors should ask and be attentive to the issues that these clients believe to be inherent and irreversible, but at the same time, not expect that all minorities will feel bias, as these tests confirm.  The second test, is extremely useful in the context of variability in feelings of adequacy over a short time due to stereotype threat beliefs.  In counseling, this may account for changes in the client’s behavior that cannot otherwise be explained and should, therefore, constantly be explored and re-assessed if a perceived bias exists in any area of the client’s functioning.


This article furthered my belief in the issues relating to a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.  I have always believed that if a client believes that they will fail, then he or she will.  I had not, however, put this into the context of self-fulfilled prophecy due to minority status.  This is not simply a problem with thought process, but a reflection of society and standards.  So, in helping clients, who believe that bias exists in society and this bias prevents them from attaining a higher level of functioning, there is more than just changing thinking patterns that must be engaged, changing attitudes toward society and bias is key.  Though more research need be done to conclude how this can effectively be done.


As stated above, research need be done of the efficacy of helping clients, who perceive a bias in any area of functioning.  Changing thought patterns is highly researched and taught to counselors, but how is behavior changed in the area of attitude toward a society that is perceived to be biased overall?  Is it effective to identify clients, who are struggling to improve due to their views on society and recommend diversity classes for this?  These research questions all need answers.


Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2004). The ups and downs of attributional ambiguity: Stereotype vulnerability and the academic self-knowledge of African American college students. Psychological Science, 15, 829–836.

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