… this is an experiment that I think people often don’t talk enough about but it’s really important in this line of research. We gave black and white Stanford students a set of really difficult anagrams to solve. And we told them, half of them that solving anagrams is kind of related to … It’s kind of a measure of cognitive abilities.

And the other half we told, “Well, it’s nothing to do with cognitive abilities. It’s just a game people play and it isn’t predictive of anything.” So, black and white under those conditions. Then under a variety of ruses, we asked them to do more. To volunteer. “How many more of these anagrams would you be willing to do for us?”

Well, the white kids, no matter how you describe the anagrams, as tests of cognitive ability or not test of cognitive, they said two. “We’ll do two. I’ll do two. These are really tough anagrams. I don’t want to be here all day. I’ll do two for you.”

And for the black kids, when we told them that the anagrams had nothing to do with cognitive abilities, it was just a game, they said the same thing. “We’ll do two. We’ll do two more for you.” But the black kids who believed that the anagrams were measures of cognitive ability, how many do you think they were willing to do.

Corey: Zero.

Claude: 10.

Steve: Yeah, I was going to say more. [crosstalk].


Yeah. Which reveals something kind of like what you said when you see those pictures on the wall. You want to be one of them. And our families told us, “You got to work twice as hard.” It was an unfair world to join that elite group. A lot of the stereotype threat effects happen because people are trying too hard rather than because they’re giving up.

Giving up is rare, but trying too hard, trying too hard, overdoing it, doing two things at the same, you’re trying to do the task and at the same time monitor how well you’re doing the task. It just takes up a lot of cognitive resources. It’s difficult to sustain that level of involvement and it wears people out and maybe they may drop out or give up that pursuit. It’s just important to understand the nature of this pressure. It’s usually driving people to try too hard.