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Negative Stereotypes Hinder Learning


A research by social psychologist Robert J. Rydell and his team at the Indiana University is showing that the effects of detrimental stereotypes are believed to inhibit learning.

This study appears to be the first to show that the effects of stereotyping effects actual learning. “The effect on learning could be cumulative,” says Rydell, whose research focuses on stereotype threat involving women and mathematics.

“If women do not learn relatively simple skills early on, this could spell trouble for them later on when they need to combine a number of more simple skills in new, complicated ways to solve difficult problems.

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“For example, if a young girl does not learn a relatively simple principle of algebra or how to divide fractions because she is experiencing threat, this may hurt her when she has to use those skills to complete problems on geometry, trigonometry, or calculus tests.”

The study that Rydell did was designed to examine “attention and perceptual learning in a visual search,” and not mathematical learning because the tasks used in the experiments allowed researchers to easily differentiate between learning effects and performance effects.

The study was conducted through a series of experiments involving Chinese characters and color judgment tasks. Rydell and his team were able to show that actual learning had not occurred in the group of women who had been reminded of the negative stereotypes involving women’s math and visual processing ability.

Rydell stated that, “The results seem to fit with the view that the women under threat try harder to carry out the task, thereby persisting in effortful serial search throughout training, and failing to find and learn an alternative strategy that makes search easier and less effortful.”

Rydell said he and his colleagues have conducted additional research specifically on mathematical learning and the results are forthcoming. They think the effect of stereotype threat on learning warrants more study by scientists and more attention by educators.