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Ira Firestone


This study explored whether Hispanic job candidates taking a cognitive ability test do not perform up to their abilities because they worry about confirming the negative stereotype that Hispanics are intellectually inferior. The experiment used a 2 (stereotype-threat and non stereotype threat) x 2 (Hispanic and White) design, plus an additional Hispanic "research-only" control group. The dependent variables were performance on an employment cognitive abilities screen, a measure of stereotype activation, a measure of anxiety, and a measure of distraction. A total of 100 job candidates, in the process of applying for a set of advertised jobs, agreed to participate in a research study on hiring questionnaires. In order to demonstrate whether or not stereotype threat impacts employment test performance, the study attempted to lead participants to believe that the test they took would determine their eligibility for jobs. Study participants filled out a job application, a cognitive ability test, a word completion form, measures of test anxiety and distraction, and a manipulation check. Participants were then fully debriefed and answered a few follow-up questions. The manipulation check showed that only 37.5% of the participants who were lead to believe that the test was for the purpose of getting a job actually did so, the remaining participants believed the test was for research purposes. White applicants scored significantly better on the cognitive abilities test than Hispanic applicants even after controlling for level of education. No other significant differences were found among the research groups. Nor did the Hispanic applicants in the research-only condition score differently than Hispanic applicants in the other experimental conditions. No evidence was found for the existence of a stereotype threat effect on cognitive ability test performance. The lack of evidence for stereotype threat is discussed in terms of methodological problems. Suggestions are given as to how to improve the strength of the stereotype threat manipulation and how to create more equivalent groups through the use of better inclusion criteria and covariates. Believability of context and power are also discussed. The author maintains that the search for stereotype threat in employment testing is both encouraging and important.

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