Stereotype Threat

     Besides acknowledging the fact that television media often offers negative stereotypical portrayals of individuals belonging to certain racial and/or ethnic groups such as African-Americans and homosexuals, social psychology goes further by examining the direct implications of these mostly negative images.  One of these implications is the notion of stereotype threat, the risk of confirming a negative stereotype about one’s group as self characteristic.  As an individual is constantly exposed to negative images of his/her racial or ethnic group, this person begins to internalize the same social and personal characteristics of these images.

     Numerous psychological studies have examined effects of stereotype threat in areas such as standardized tests, and athletic performance.  For example, the commonly held assumption that women are less skilled in mathematics than men has been shown to affect the performance of women on standardized math tests.  When female participants were primed beforehand of this negative stereotype, scores were significantly lower than if the women were led to believe the tests did not reflect these stereotypes(Spencer & Steele, 1997)

    Going hand in hand with the idea of stereotype threat, the negative television portrayals have a direct correlation with the effects of the self-fulfilling prophecy.  Although not in the realm of primetime television, channels such as MTV offer blatantly stereotypical images of African-Americans and women that greatly affect the young viewers who, in turn take these images to heart.  Rap videos lead young black males to internalize a positive image of Black culture that emphasizes the degradation of women as objects, the lurid appeal of money, and material possessions, as well as the endorsement of alcohol and drug use.  With constant exposure to these images, it is no surprise that we have seen many instances of young black men attempting to emulate these images through overt behaviors such as drug use, domestic violence, and criminal activity.

     In terms of primetime television, an issue that has been in the news recently is how many women are seen on television represented by unrealistically thin images of many prominent actresses in Hollywood.  Shows such as Ally McBeal and Friends  have generated a great amount of controversy over how these images affect a number of women viewers into aspirations of attaining these virtually unattainable bodies.  While television images provide only one aspect of our culture that leads women to desire these traits, it deserves the most attention because of how pervasive television has become in American society.  The negative impact of these media trends is seen in the many women who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia in hopes of reaching a slim figure.  


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This tutorial was produced for Psy 324, Advanced Social Psychology, Spring 2000 at Miami University.  All graphics are from the public domain, used with permission, or were created by the authors.  Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).   Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 23:37:43. This document has been accessed 1  times since 1 May 2000. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman