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The Dumb jock: how stereotype threats impact student-athletes' standards of academic competence

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Diekfuss, Jed A.
Miron, Anca
MS, Cognitive and Affective Science
Aug 2012
College sports; Public opinion of athletes; College athletes; Group identity; Academic achievement; Stereotypes in sports
College student-athletes are susceptible to a unique stereotype threat known as the "dumb jock" stereotype, according to which student-athletes are supposedly less engaged in academics and less competent academically. Previous research has shown that people do harbor the "dumb jock" stereotype, which negatively affects student-athletes' perceived academic self-regard and academic performance. In the present research, I test whether a shifting in standards of academic competence may be the mechanism underlying the negative effect of stereotype threat on student-athletes' perceived academic self-regard and academic performance. A standard of academic competence is defined as the criterion people set on an academic task in order for them to call themselves academically competent. Stereotype threat was manipulated and participants'standards of academic competency, perceived academic self-regard, and academic performance were measured. It was predicted that student-athletes who take a math test that they perceive as being diagnostic of typical academic performance would perform worse academically and have lower perceived academic self-regard than student-athletes who perceive the test as non-diagnostic of typical academic performance and non-athlete students who perceive the test as diagnostic of academic performance. Also, it was predicted that student-athletes who perceive the test as diagnostic of typical academic performance would shift their standards of academic competence downwards (i.e., require less evidence of competence for themselves) to reduce the likelihood of confirming the "dumb jock" stereotype, which would lead to poorer academic performance and to lower perceived academic self-regard. However, contrary to the predictions, the participants in the test diagnostic/student-athlete condition had significantly higher math test accuracy scores than the test diagnostic/non-athlete student condition. These results suggest that the "dumb jock" stereotype threat may be less threatening than previous research has suggested. Possible explanations for the enhanced performance and perceived academic self-regard are discussed. One potential explanation is stereotype reactance - the motivated tendency to behave in a manner inconsistent with an imposed stereotype about the group to which the person belongs. This interpretation is described in detail and new avenues of research on the "dumb jock" stereotype threat are discussed.
A Thesis Submitted In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science - Psychology Cognitive and Affective Science
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