Emotion blocks the path to learning under stereotype threat

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2012 Feb;7(2):230-41. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq100. Epub 2011 Jan 19.


Gender-based stereotypes undermine females' performance on challenging math tests, but how do they influence their ability to learn from the errors they make? Females under stereotype threat or non-threat were presented with accuracy feedback after each problem on a GRE-like math test, followed by an optional interactive tutorial that provided step-wise problem-solving instruction. Event-related potentials tracked the initial detection of the negative feedback following errors [feedback related negativity (FRN), P3a], as well as any subsequent sustained attention/arousal to that information [late positive potential (LPP)]. Learning was defined as success in applying tutorial information to correction of initial test errors on a surprise retest 24-h later. Under non-threat conditions, emotional responses to negative feedback did not curtail exploration of the tutor, and the amount of tutor exploration predicted learning success. In the stereotype threat condition, however, greater initial salience of the failure (FRN) predicted less exploration of the tutor, and sustained attention to the negative feedback (LPP) predicted poor learning from what was explored. Thus, under stereotype threat, emotional responses to negative feedback predicted both disengagement from learning and interference with learning attempts. We discuss the importance of emotion regulation in successful rebound from failure for stigmatized groups in stereotype-salient environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Mathematics / methods
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Stereotyping*
  • Women / psychology*
  • Young Adult