See Inside February 2005

Performance without Anxiety

Fear of reinforcing negative stereotypes, Claude Steele finds, hampers the ability to succeed. The idea is now central in affirmative action and job discrimination fights


In experiments starting in 1939, American social psychologists Kenneth Clark and Mamie Clark discovered that black children preferred to play with dolls that were white. Their data helped to convince the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education that separate education was inherently unequal.

Now civil-rights lawyers are turning once again to psychology as a way to reveal the powerful hidden barriers created by modern-day bias. In battles over issues from affirmative action to workplace discrimination, educators, political theorists and activists are relying on Stanford University social psychologist Claude Steele's studies on "stereotype threat" to argue for policies that might make access to jobs and education fair for everyone.

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