Stereotypes as Stumbling-Blocks: How Coping With Stereotype Threat Affects Life Outcomes for People With Physical Disabilities

Abstract

Stereotype threat, the concern about being judged in light of negative stereotypes, causes underperformance in evaluative
situations. However, less is known about how coping with stereotypes can aggravate underperformance over time. We propose
a model in which ongoing stereotype threat experiences threaten a person’s sense of self-integrity, which in turn prompts
defensive avoidance of stereotype-relevant situations, impeding growth, achievement, and well-being. We test this model in
an important but understudied population: the physically disabled. In Study 1, blind adults reporting higher levels of stereotype
threat reported lower self-integrity and well-being and were more likely to be unemployed and to report avoiding stereotype-threatening
situations. In Study 2’s field experiment, blind students in a compensatory skill-training program made more progress if they
had completed a values-affirmation, an exercise that bolsters self-integrity. The findings suggest that stereotype threat
poses a chronic threat to self-integrity and undermines life outcomes for people with disabilities.

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