It is fairly common knowledge that putting students into “slower learning” groups affects the way that the students view their own intelligence and therefore has a negative impact on their performance. But who knew that the same negative effect can be caused just by priming a student with a simple phrase or question?
“The psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson created an even more extreme version of this test, using black college students and twenty questions taken from the Graduate Record Examination, the standardized test used for entry into graduate school. When the students were asked to identify their race on a pretest questionnaire, that simple act was sufficient to prime them with all the negative stereotypes associated with African Americans and academic achievement–and the number of items they got right was cut in half. As a society, we place enormous faith in tests because we think that they are a reliable indicator of the test taker’s ability and knowledge. But are they really? If a white student from a prestigious private high school gets a higher SAT score than a black student from an inner-city school, is it because she’s truly a better student, or is it because to be white and to attend a prestigious high school is to be constantly primed with the idea of ‘smart’?”
–Excerpt from the book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell.