In a new study posted on the Russell Sage Foundation’s RSF Review blog, UCI sociologist Jennifer Lee finds evidence that being viewed through the lens of a positive stereotype can reinforce and actually boost performance. Coined as “stereotype promise,” the finding is based on data collected between 2008 and 2010 as part of the UCI-led Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) project.
Through in-depth interviews, Lee and Min Zhou, UCLA sociologist, sought to understand the varying ways in which 1.5- and second-generation Mexicans, Chinese, and Vietnamese defined success. The Asian American students included in the study described how teachers assumed, despite any evidence other than ethnicity, that they were smart, hard-working, and high-achieving. The students reported being treated and graded more positively than their peers of other racial and ethnic groups, and were subsequently more likely to be placed into the most competitive academic tracks. For many of these students, says Lee, stereotype promise boosted their overall performance.
The finding, says Lee, fills a research gap left by Claude Steele and his colleagues who studied “stereotype threat” and found that the threat or the fear of performing in a certain way can inadvertently confirm a negative stereotype of one’s group, which, in turn, depresses performance.