Repository logo

Situated identity performance : understanding stereotype threat as a social identity phenomenon.


Stereotype threat or boost (STB) is a situational modifier of task performance that occurs when a group stereotype becomes relevant to the performance of a stereotype-relevant task. This dissertation aimed to re-imagine STB in light of social identity theory. Ten studies were undertaken that each manipulated status and either identifiability, conflict or permeability and explored the effects on the performance of the Ravens Advanced Progressive Matrices. Additional identity and socio-structural constructs were also measured and explored, including stability, legitimacy and ingroup identification. The results showed that STB is not simply “activated” or “deactivated” when stereotypes become relevant to task performance. On the contrary, the specific features of identity, the contextual features of the social environment in which the identity performance takes place, and the performer’s strategic engagement with their identity resources and liabilities are important features of how STB impacts on performance, and how it is sometimes resisted and overturned by experimental subjects. Indeed, performance was generally not predictable on the basis of stereotype activation until resistance to the negative or positive status manipulations were also accounted for. Although the STB literature is tightly focused on the case of negative stereotypes undermining performance, incongruent effects in which negative stereotypes enhance performance and positive stereotypes undermine it have also been reported. In the present studies incongruent STB effects were frequently observed. Underperformance in boost conditions was most consistently predicted by perceived intergroup conflict, while enhanced performance under threat was consistently predicted by perceived group boundary permeability. Additionally, underperformance in boost conditions was often a result of ‘slipstreaming’ rather than ‘choking under pressure,’ since participants were evidently counting on their generally secure identity in the experimental context to buffer poor performance on the experimental task. Improved performance in threat conditions was most likely when participants perceived themselves to be representatives of their group and when they believed that their improved performance would make a difference for their own reputation or the reputation of their group. These findings challenge the common image of the passive subject in the STB literature and, instead, suggest that STB effects are an outcome of situated identity performance. This model of STB effects understands task-performance in a specific performance context as an active and strategic expression of situated identity oriented not only to the social features of the performance context (as argued by most SIT theorists), but also to the their own reading of that context, their total identity liabilities and resources (including individual ability and alternative identities) and their strategic motivations in the context.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2011.


Stereotypes (Social psychology), Social perception., Group identity., Theses--Psychology.