Stereotype threat is defined as a reduction in performance somehow caused by a negative stereotype held by other people. They doubt that you can do it, and that makes you anxious and hinders your ability. At least that’s the theory. This can’t just be something that happens with high-stakes tests like the SAT, since the SAT predicts academic achievement just as well in groups with low average scores as it does in other groups. Groups with low average scores on standardized test also do poorly in their course work. No, stereotype threat must be a factor in every test, every problem set. Like Judge Lynch, stereotype threat never sleeps.
Why would such a tendency have evolved? What advantage would accrue from being diss-able? Against, we’re not talking about occasional nervousness – this involves long-term reduction of abilities. Does it go both ways (before crossing the street!)? Can everyone do it? If I said “You’re not so much” to a famous science fiction writer, would he be shaken to his foundations? Could civilization slip into a death-spiral of incompetence if everyone started doubting everyone else?
Personally, I have sometimes reacted to doubts directed me by actually trying harder, often successfully – ” I’ll show you, you son-of-a-bitch!”. Evidently that reaction is rare, maybe even pathological. Definitely UnAmerican.
Maybe it’s like the evil eye: only certain people have the ability. In fact, maybe it is the evil eye. When you take a look at it, the two ideas are extremely similar, and may just be different labels for the same phenomenon. Note that babies and young children are thought to be especially vulnerable to the evil eye, which could explain why the test score gap is in place by age three. It may be that northern Europeans are especially gifted in this respect. In areas where light-colored eyes are rare, such as the Aegean, people with blue or green eyes (especially blue) are thought to bestow the curse. As a Greek professional artist working at MIT said recently, “The blue eyes cause miasmata.” This could also explain selective sweeps of gene variants causing striking eye colors in Europeans – an increase in reproductive fitness flowing from a ability to curse others makes sense. More than sexual selection, anyhow.
So it’s not so much that diss-ability is a product of natural selection, more that the evil eye is.
If we can show that ‘stereotype threat’ really is the evil eye, we can immediately begin to counter its negative effects. Carrying a blue bead, or a head of garlic with only one clove gives protection. If that doesn’t work, we can try a tiger claw around the neck, touching a watch chain, or the hand of Miriam.
How many people does it take to inflict stereotype threat on an individual or a group? I, for example, think that social psychologists like Claude Steele are utter dipshits, and of course they are – but whose fault is that, really?