The effect of stereotypes on black college test scores at a historically black university

Stereotype threat, the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about the group to which one belongs, has long been identified as a contributing factor to the black-white academic achievement gap. Past research has indicated that Black students do worse on tests when they are first reminded of their race.

This report, published in the February 2022 issue of Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, explored whether students at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) would also experience negative effects in similar test-taking scenarios.


Key Findings

  • Experimental studies have found that when Black students are reminded of their racial identity before taking a test — and thus influenced by this negative stereotype — Black students have significantly higher blood pressure ratesare more cognizant of their racial identityand perform worse on the test when it is framed as a measure of intelligence.
  • To test this, the authors asked students at an HBCU in Texas to answer a set of 18 verbal Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) questions.
  • The authors found no significant difference in the number of questions answered correctly by the subjects in the control and treatment groups — that is, the students who weren’t reminded of their race and those who were reminded performed equally well on the test.
  • Moreover, the identity of the test administrator did not appear to have an effect: there was no significant difference in the number of correct answers given in the high-threat treatment (with a white male researcher) versus the low-threat treatment (with a Black female researcher).


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