Stereotype threat is one of the most widely studied social psychological concepts of the past 20 years. In this introductory chapter, we provide a broad overview of the theory and introduce the goals of this volume. The significance of the theory lies in its ability to offer a more optimistic account of group differences in performance. By side-stepping the nature–nurture debate entirely, stereotype threat seeks to identify how factors in the immediate performance situation contribute to—if not create—the appearance of systematic differences in ability. Interest in these effects is not restricted to academic circles but has gained broad recognition in the popular press with applications beyond education to intergroup interactions, organizational behavior, and clinical diagnoses. We review the four main sections of the book: an examination of basic processes that trigger and mediate how negative stereotypes impair performance, a discussion of recent theoretical extensions to the original formulation of the theory, a review of the variety of groups in which stereotype threat has been documented, and a description of how the theory can be applied to alleviate the debilitating effects that negative stereotypes can have in academic contexts. The book is intended for anyone with an interest in the behavioral science of performance, whether from an academic, organizational, or social policy perspective. To facilitate application of basic theory to the field, each chapter provides policy recommendations stemming from the research reviewed. To inspire future research, we conclude the chapter with a review of unanswered questions that await further inquiry.
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