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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 252

Our social identities come from race, gender, age, educational background, medical status, political affiliations, and a lot of other places. Each of these identities comes with a set of expectations or stereotypes. Nobody is immune to stereotypes, and we all have been at the receiving end of negative perceptions. Social psychologist Claude Steele describes this phenomenon as “the stereotype threat.” His book Whistling Vivaldi analyzes the impact of negative stereotypes on our lives. Steele’s interest in the subject stems from his personal experiences. He recalls his childhood in 1950s Chicago when he was a victim of racial discrimination.

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Through personal stories, experiments, and research studies, Steele discusses how being aware of negative stereotypes impairs our abilities to perform. For example, women taking a math test will perform worse when reminded that women are not expected to do well in math. Fear affects their ability to function. According to Steele, the intimidation factor diminishes cognitive resources. We devote so much energy to keep our heads up against a constant barrage of negative perceptions that we are unable to perform to our potential. Eventually, the pressure takes a toll on our physical, mental, and emotional health.

Steele focuses his research on the influence of negative stereotypes on academic performance. He outlines practical strategies for minimizing stereotype threat. He believes that positive role models can reduce the damaging effects of the negative stereotype. He advocates the importance of a fostering a belief in students that they can meet high standards, regardless of their identity.

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