Solo Status and Role Models 1
Running head: SOLO STATUS AND ROLE MODELS IN ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
Solo Status and Role Model Race: Their Effects on Academic Performance in African Americans
Alexandra B. Pederson
Solo Status and Role Models 2
The effects of classroom status (participant solo member versus participant group member) and role
model race (African American test creator, White test creator, or no race indicated) on African
American college students’ performances on a test of SAT verbal reasoning questions were
investigated. Classroom status and test creator race were determined using biographical description
sheets. Results indicated no significant differences in test scores between the six conditions, but did
reveal experimental SAT verbal scores (M = 320) significantly lower than pre-college SAT verbal
section scores (M = 520). Markedly diminished experimental scores are attributed to testing
anxiety aroused by perceived test difficulty and pretest race reporting evoking stereotype threat.
Limitations, implications, and future research are discussed.
Solo Status and Role Models 3
Solo Status and Role Model Race: Their Effects on Academic Performance in African Americans
Threatening intellectual environments can be thought of as settings in which students come
to suspect that they may be devalued, stigmatized, or discriminated against because of a particular
social identity (Inzlicht & Good, 2006). Such settings compel students to conceptualize their own
social identities, as well as the stereotypes associated with them. Classrooms that include students
from multiple social groups, that is, ones that are heterogeneous, are likely to promote the
formation of threatening academic environments among those groups that are stigmatized. This
effect is likely to become particularly salient in settings where stigmatized group members are in
the numerical minority, as in the case of an African American student who finds himself
outnumbered by his White classmates.
According to the distinctiveness theory, described by McGuire, McGuire, Child, and
Fujioka (1978), a person’s spontaneous self-concept is mainly comprised of his or her peculiarities,
or the ways in which that person differs from others in his or her immediate social context.
McGuire et al. offer the example of a Black woman in a heterogeneous group: a Black woman in a
group of White women will tend to think of herself as Black, whereas a Black woman amongst
Black men will tend to be more conscious of her status as a woman. In their 1978 study, McGuire
et al. found that high-school students were more likely to define themselves as members of their
racial group when that group was the minority, rather than the majority, in their classrooms. The
results of Pinel, Warner, and Chua (2005) demonstrated that minority students’ stigma
consciousness increased upon arrival at a predominantly White college, and this increase in stigma
consciousness was correlated with lower minority GPAs. These findings indicate that being
outnumbered in a classroom setting can increase awareness of one’s group, which may in turn lead
Solo Status and Role Models 4
to greater awareness of the stereotypes associated with that group, creating a threatening intellectual
Environments that activate these stereotypes might threaten intellectual performance by way
of a phenomenon known as stereotype threat (Shih, Pittinsky, & Ambady, 1999; Stangor, Carr, &
Kiang, 1998; Steele & Aronson, 1995). Stereotype threat can be defined as the discomfort
individuals feel when they are at risk of fulfilling a negative stereotype associated with their social
group (Inzlicht & Good, 2006). For instance, when faced with the stereotype that their group is not
proficient in mathematics and science, women may feel anxious about being judged in relation to
that stereotype, causing them to underperform and, ultimately, confirm the very stereotype that they
were trying to refute. Consideration of stereotype threat in combination with the aforementioned
distinctiveness theory leads one to assume that being in the numerical minority would increase
one’s awareness of his or her group and the stereotypes associated with that group, resulting in the
decline in academic performance associated with stereotype threat.
Research on distinctiveness, also referred to as solo status, has confirmed this supposition,
demonstrating that being in the numerical minority can lead to detrimental outcomes (e.g., Beaton,
Tougas, Rinfret, Huard, & Delisle, 2007; Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev, 2000; Saenz, 1994; Yoder &
Sinnett, 1985). Minority situations may be especially detrimental to individuals belonging to
socially devalued groups, such as females and racial or ethnic minorities. The findings of
Sekaquaptewa and Thompson (2003) indicated that women who were solos in a group that was
otherwise homogeneously male performed more poorly on a mathematics examination than those
who were not solo members. Furthermore, the results of this study also showed that men’s
performance was not dependent on solo status, supporting the role of stereotype threat in the
diminished academic performance of women. Inzlicht, Aronson, Good, and McKay (2006)
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demonstrated that performance of African American participants on a GRE verbal test decreased as
numerical representation of African Americans in the test group decreased. In an intergroup
comparison design, such as that employed by Katz, Epps, and Axelson (1964), participants are told
either that their test scores will be compared to members of the group to which they belong (group
status) or to members of a differing group (solo status). The results of Katz et al. showed that
African American testers performed better when they believed their scores were to be compared to
those of other African Americans versus those of Whites. Unfortunately, the design of Katz et al.
most likely led to confounded independent variables, as the prestige of participants’ respective
schools and socioeconomic status also differed between groups. However, Loh and Nuttin (1972)
found that participants’ intellectual performances were appreciably higher when they believed they
were to be compared to an ethnically congruent group, revealing that this manipulation of solo
status, even in the absence of evident confounds, demonstrated the same effects observed in other
Because the discussed research adequately displays the diminished academic performance
of numeric minorities, investigators must now examine ways to attenuate this effect, providing solo
members with an equal opportunity to succeed in intellectual environments. Inzlicht and Ben-Zeev
reported an interesting solo status finding in 2000: Investigators varied the number of minority
members in group settings, demonstrating that deficits in female test performance were inversely
proportional to the number of other females present during testing. Although the ability of schools
to increase the number of classroom minorities is limited, this is an effect that should not be
overlooked. A variant potentially more easily manipulated by school administrations could be
congruence of teacher characteristics with numeric minorities in the classroom. In 2002, Marx and
Roman investigated threatening intellectual environments resulting from classroom instructor
characteristics. The experimenters concluded that women performed better on mathematics
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examinations in the presence of a competent female instructor, compared with performance in the
presence of a competent male instructor. The phenomenon observed in Marx and Roman, often
described as the role model effect, has been the focus of several research investigations (Dee, 2004;
Evans, 1992; Holmlund & Sund, 2008; Klopfenstein, 2005). Although the results of these
experiments have varied, all suggest a positive trend in the direction of improved academic
performance in the presence of a characteristically congruent teacher, or role model. Holmlund and
Sund examined the correlation between student-teacher gender congruence and improvements in
student outcomes, finding that having a same gender teacher was associated with better
performance in the natural sciences. Furthermore, the investigators noted that this effect was more
pronounced for male students, perhaps indicating that the positive effects related to teacher-student
congruence may be more pronounced with groups for which congruence is atypical, such as males
or racial minorities in a classroom setting, as White female instructors comprise the majority in this
field. Though Evans did not find a significant role model effect based on teacher-student gender,
he did report that African American students with a same-race teacher performed significantly
better than those with a White teacher. Dee found that teacher-student racial congruence was
associated with increased math and reading achievement with African American students.
Klopfenstein also demonstrated a positive correlation between teacher-student racial congruence
and academic achievement, theorizing that such effects may be related to “cultural congruence”:
African American students are better able to relate to same-race teachers, for example in areas of
oratory style, eliminating cultural differences that may impede a student’s academic improvement.
No matter the basis of these results, research on the role model effect suggests higher academic
performance in environments involving teacher-student congruence. Implications of the role model
effect should be considered while investigating possible methods for attenuating the academic
disadvantages experienced by solo members in classroom settings.
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Current Research and Hypotheses
The current experiment investigated whether the role model effect associated with teacher-
student racial congruence could minimize the diminished academic performance experienced by
African American solo members in a classroom setting. In their 2007 experiment, Sekaquaptewa,
Waldman, and Thompson utilized biographical descriptions of fellow group members to manipulate
solo status, finding that this manipulation resulted in the greater race centrality associated with
stereotype threat in solo status conditions. To reduce the probability of confounds associated with
differing interactions in a live model classroom setting, and as Sekaquaptewa et al. have
demonstrated validity in solo status conditions created using biographical descriptions, the current
research adopted Sekaquaptewa et al.’s biographical description model and manipulated classroom
settings using “student profile sheets.” Teacher-student racial congruence was also determined
using biographical descriptions. This experiment defined the “teacher” as the test creator, a set-up
comparable to that in a typical classroom setting, in which a teacher would most likely be creating
academic tests to be taken by their students. Previous experiments have used scores on GRE
practice examinations as a measure of academic performance (Inzlicht et al., 2006; Steele &
Aronson, 1995). In order to avoid potential floor effects that may be associated with the difficult
nature of this examination, the current experiment alternatively used scores on a test comprised of
practice questions derived from the SAT, another well-validated, standardized test, as a measure of
academic performance. Because stereotypes concerning African American performance on verbal
tasks are seemingly more prevalent than those concerning mathematical ability, only verbal
reasoning question types were utilized in an attempt to maximize the effects observed in this study
(Inzlicht et al.; Steele & Aronson).
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Based on the effects of solo status and role model race reported by previous investigators,
the following hypotheses were expected to characterize African American academic performance in
1) Participants in solo status classrooms, that is those in which they are in the numeric
minority, would perform significantly worse on a test of verbal reasoning than participants in group
2) African American participants should demonstrate higher academic performance in
racially congruent Teacher Race conditions: the role model effect should lead to better test
performance with African American teachers.
3) An interaction between Classroom Status and Teacher Race was predicted: Participants
in the White teacher condition were expected to perform significantly better in group status
classrooms than in solo status classrooms. A significant difference in performance between
Classroom Status conditions would not be evident in the Black teacher condition, though a trend in
the direction of better performance in group status classrooms should still be demonstrated.
Participants were 41 African American undergraduate students, drawn from a historically
African American institution located in North Carolina. Thirty-five of the participants were women
and all were between the ages of 18 and 22 years. Participants were recruited from two
undergraduate classes for which the professors had consented to administration of the experiment.
The experiment was then conducted during class time, with 20 students present in one class and 21
students present in the other.
Solo Status and Role Models 9
After obtaining informed consent, participants were randomly assigned to one of six
conditions in a Teacher Race (Black teacher versus White teacher versus control teacher) ×
Classroom Status (solo status classroom versus group status classroom) factorial design.
Participants experienced only one level of each of the two independent variables (Teacher Race and
Classroom Status), making this a between-subjects design.
Materials and Design
The dependent variable in this design was academic performance, as measured by
participants’ scores on a verbal reasoning test. The verbal reasoning test was comprised of 20 items
taken from a Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) practice test (The College Board, 2005). The 20 items
were questions 6, 8-11, 17, 18, 21-30, and 32-34 from Section 5 of the College Board Official SAT
Practice Test 2008-09. These items were chosen to include questions between medium and hard
difficulty levels, as identified by The College Board (2005), in order to decrease the likelihood of
Before completing the verbal reasoning test, each participant was asked to study a list of ten
student profiles and a test creator description to be recalled following the testing period. The
student profile sheet and test creator description studied by a participant varied according to which
of the six possible conditions (Black teacher - solo status classroom (B-SS), White teacher - solo
status classroom (W-SS), control teacher - solo status classroom (C-SS), Black teacher - group
status classroom (B-GS), White teacher - group status classroom (W-GS), or control teacher - group
status classroom (C-GS)) he or she was assigned to. The test creator description was associated
with Teacher Race (Black teacher, White teacher, or control teacher) whereas allotment of the
student profile sheet was determined by Classroom Status (solo status classroom or group status
Solo Status and Role Models 10
All participants were told that the verbal reasoning test content was created by an imaginary
teacher, described on the test creator description sheets. Participants in all three Teacher Race
conditions received the same test creator description, and sheets varied only by the teacher
photograph: In the Black teacher condition, a photograph of an African American test creator was
included (BT sheet; Appendix A), in the White teacher condition, a photograph of a White test
creator (WT sheet; Appendix B), and in the control condition, a box containing the words “Photo
Not Available” (CT sheet; Appendix C). The researcher and five other Davidson College seniors
judged the males in the photographs used for the Black teacher condition and the White teacher
condition to be of equal attractiveness.
Additionally, all participants received a list of ten imaginary student profiles (the student
profile sheet), associated with Classroom Status, with whom the participant was told his or her
scores would be compared. These profiles contained information regarding each “student’s”
gender, hometown region, race, and the number of student activities in which he or she participated.
The sheet reviewed by participants in both Classroom Status conditions was identical, apart from
the race of all 10 students: In the solo status condition, eight of the students were listed as White,
non-Hispanic, in addition to one Black, non-Hispanic student and one Hispanic student (SS sheet;
Appendix D), whereas in the group status condition, eight of the students were described as Black,
non-Hispanic, with one White, non-Hispanic student and one Hispanic student (GS sheet; Appendix
E). Thus, in the solo status condition a participant was told that his or her scores were to be
compared with a group in which he or she was in the racial numerical minority (an African
American participant in a mostly White classroom). In the group status condition, participants were
led to believe that their scores would be compared with a group comprised of mostly same race
students (an African American participant in a mostly Black classroom). A blank student profile
sheet always immediately followed presentation of the Classroom Status student profile sheet, with
Solo Status and Role Models 11
participants filling out the same profile information (gender, hometown region, race, and the
number of student activities in which he or she participated), expectantly decreasing suspicion
concerning the alleged purpose of the stimuli. In summary, a participant in the White teacher - solo
status classroom (W-SS), for example, studied, and was asked to recall, the WT sheet and the SS
sheet, whereas a participant in the Black teacher - group status classroom (B-GS), alternatively,
received the BT sheet and the GS sheet. The order of presentation of test creator description sheets
and student profile sheets was counterbalanced between participants.
All participants also completed two questionnaires. The first was a two-question awareness
questionnaire. The second, a recall questionnaire, was composed of six questions on recall, one of
which specifically addressed the race of students listed on the student profile sheet and two of
which addressed the race of the test creator on the test creator description sheet, and five questions
related to the participant’s previous SAT scores and current GPA. The SAT score and GPA
information were used to ensure that baseline intelligence levels between the six conditions were
not significantly different. All of these sheets (the student profile sheet, the test creator sheet, the
verbal reasoning test, and the questionnaire sheets) were compiled into a 15-page packet for each
participant. These packets, the order, contents, and arrangement of which varied according to
condition, counterbalancing, and randomization, were laid out on student desks prior to the arrival
Upon obtaining consent, the experimenter (an African American, female, senior psychology
major at the participating institution) explained to all participants that in the next 45 minutes they
would work on a verbal reasoning test, and that their scores would be compared to the scores of
Solo Status and Role Models 12
other students at universities across the United States. In order to decrease awareness among
participants of the actual purpose of the study, the experimenter told participants the following:
This study is being conducted at several institutions across the country, and your results will
be used to compare your institution to other schools. Your participation will help the
researchers determine what best predicts high test performance, such as school, student
involvement, or hometown region, and will aid in designing tests that more effectively
measure student academic ability, rather than tests on which performance is related to
The experimenter then informed participants that they would review and be asked to recall
information from the list of profiles of the students with whom they were to be compared, as well as
a description of their test creator. Furthermore, the experimenter explained that in addition to the
recall test, participants would complete two supplementary questionnaires following completion of
the verbal reasoning test.
After describing the procedure, the experimenter instructed participants to flip to the first
page of their 15-page study packet and told participants that they would now be studying either the
student profiles or the test creator description. For either sheet, the experimenter allowed 3 min
study of the information, but after 2 min 30 sec, if the participant was looking at the student
profiles, he or she was instructed to flip to the next page and complete the blank student profile
sheet. A second 3 min interval followed, during which participants studied whichever sheet they
did not examine during the first interval. Following these two 3 min intervals the experimenter
gave the following explanation of the verbal reasoning test:
This test consists of twenty questions and will take approximately 25 minutes to complete. I
will inform you at the halfway point, and when there are only 5 minutes left. Each test
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consists of three different sections. Please refer to the instructions for that section if you
have questions. If you have any additional questions, please raise your hand. However, I
will be unable to help you answer any test questions. Please answer these questions to the
best of your ability, as your results will be used to compare your institution to other colleges
throughout the country. If you finish the test before the 25 minutes are up, you may review
your answers, but please do not return to the pages before the verbal reasoning test, or flip
ahead to future pages.
If there were no questions, the experimenter then began the 25-min testing period. Following the
25-min testing period, the experimenter instructed participants to flip the page and allowed 1 min
for completion of the two-question awareness questionnaire. After 1 min, the experimenter asked
participants to turn to the final page of the study packet and complete the recall questionnaire.
Participants were allowed 2 min to answer these questions after which they were thanked and the
study period was complete.
The SPSS 16.0 software for Windows was used for statistical analysis. An alpha level of .
01 was used for all statistical tests to provide balance between type I and type II errors. A one-way
analysis of variance was first conducted in order to ensure random assignment resulted in
statistically similar study condition groups. Random assignment resulted in nonsignificant
differences in gender distribution (approximately 1 male per condition) and intelligence level (as
determined by GPA), F(5,27) = 2.65, p = .05, across the six groups at the .01 significance level,
though it is worth noting that the GPA for the C-GS group (M = 2.43, SD = 0.38) was significantly
lower than the GPA for the W-GS group (M = 3.37, SD = 0.45) or the W-SS group (M = 3.38, SD =
0.47) at the .05 significance level, as determined through post hoc comparisons (see Table).
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A 3 × 2 ANOVA was conducted to evaluate the effects of the three Teacher Race conditions
(Black teacher, White teacher, or control teacher) and the two Classroom Status conditions (solo
status classroom or group status classroom) on verbal reasoning test scores. The dependent
variable, verbal reasoning test scores, was computed by awarding one point for each correct answer
reported on the verbal reasoning test, in accordance with the answers outlined by Section 5 of the
2008-2009 Official SAT Practice Test (The College Board, 2005). This allowed for verbal
reasoning test scores ranging between 0 and 20 points. Results of the ANOVA indicated no
significant main effects for Teacher Race, F(2, 35) = 0.15, p = .86, or Classroom Status, F(1, 35) =
1.77, p = .19, and indicated no significant interaction between the two, F(2, 35) = 0.42, p = .66 (see
Figure 1). The average verbal reasoning test score across all groups was 5.78 (SD = 2.07) out of 20.
The verbal reasoning test scores were then used to compute an SAT Verbal Section Score.
First, verbal reasoning test scores were used to calculate Raw SAT Scores (see Table). To do this,
1 point was awarded for each correct answer and 0.25 point was subtracted for each incorrect
answer, allowing for scores between -5 and 20. These scores were then computed from values out
of 20 possible points to values out of 49 possible points (the total number of points possible on the
full length 2008-2009 Section 5 Official SAT Practice Test; The College Board, 2005). The SAT
Verbal Section Conversion Table was then utilized to convert these Raw SAT Scores into SAT
Scores ranging between 200 and 800 points (see Table; The College Board). Reported pre-college
SAT Verbal Section Scores (n = 12) were compared to those participants’ experimental session
SAT Verbal Section Scores using a paired-samples t test. The results of this test indicated that the
mean experimental session SAT Verbal Section Score (M 12 pre-college score reporters = 320, SD
= 70; M all participants = 300, SD = 60) was significantly lower than the mean reported pre-college
SAT Verbal Section Score (M = 520, SD = 80), t(11) = 6.12, p < .01 (see Figure 2).
Solo Status and Role Models 15
Furthermore, of the 31 participants who responded to the classroom race item on the recall
questionnaire, 61.29% (n = 19) correctly identified the classroom race as a White numeric majority
or a Black numeric majority. On the questions about test creator race, 22 of 26 responders, or
84.62%, correctly identified the race of the teacher. Out of the 11 participants in the control teacher
condition, for which no race-specifying photograph was included, five participants assumed the test
creator was Black, five participants assumed the test creator was White, and one participant did not
respond. Seventy-five percent of the participants in the group status classroom condition, or that
which was comprised of mostly Black students, believed that the test creator was Black, whereas
66.67% of the reporting participants in the solo status classroom condition, or that which was
comprised of mostly White students, assumed that the test creator was White. Of the two students
in the solo status classroom condition that believed the test creator was Black, one incorrectly
identified the classroom race as mostly Black and one did not report the classroom race.
The present data do not support the three hypotheses outlined by the experimenter, which
1) Solo status classrooms would result in significantly worse verbal reasoning test scores
than group status classrooms.
2) Black teacher conditions, or teacher-participant race congruence, would lead to
significantly better verbal reasoning test scores than White teacher conditions.
3) There would be an observed interaction between Classroom Status and Teacher Race,
indicating that although solo status classroom scores would be significantly lower than group status
classroom scores in White teacher conditions, Black teachers would more dramatically increase
Solo Status and Role Models 16
solo status classroom scores than group status classroom scores, leading to a nonsignificant
difference between these groups.
Alternatively, analyses indicated no significant differences between any Classroom Status or
Teacher Race conditions. Several factors may have contributed to these findings.
First, the number of participants recruited for this study may have constrained statistical
power, leading to nonsignificant findings. Before recruitment began, the researcher used the
G*Power 3 power analysis program to determine that a sample size of 120 participants (20 in each
of the six conditions; compared with actual sample size, 41 participants) would be necessary to
achieve 80% power in the occurrence of a large effect size (0.4, as defined by Cohen, 1969; Faul,
Erdfelder, Lang, & Buchner, 2007). Unfortunately, because the participating institution did not
allow participant compensation, the present study was conducted during class hours, when students
were readily available. The length of the complete study period, approximately 40 min, established
that consenting professors must devote an entire class meeting to administration of the experiment,
leading to low professor interest. Future research should adequately address the limitation of
Second, floor effects may have restricted the range of verbal reasoning test scores, leading
to nonobservable trends within the data. As reported within the Results section, the average verbal
reasoning test score for all participants was 5.78 (SD = 2.07) out of 20 possible points. Twenty-
eight of 41 participants achieved a score of 5 or lower, indicating that nearly three-fourths of
participants answered fewer than 25% of test questions correctly. These numbers presumably
reveal data subject to floor effects. Two reasons that may explain these effects are participants
guessing answers rather than fully attempting to logically assess each question and low participant
motivation. That said, however, due to the set-up of this experiment, requiring participants to sit
Solo Status and Role Models 17
through the entire 25-min testing period with no stimuli aside from the testing booklet, it seems
unlikely that participants would have quickly run through the 20 questions, simply guessing
answers without attempting to work through the problems. The 25-min period allowed plenty
adequate time for participants to complete each question in its entirety, as a full-length Official
SAT section allows only 25 min for 35 questions, or about 42 sec per question, while the
experiment permitted approximately 75 sec per question (The College Board, 2005). Furthermore,
although it may be possible that the participants were not motivated to complete the test to the best
of their ability, the average SAT verbal score in this experiment, 300 points, fell far below the
average national SAT verbal score, approximately 500 points (The College Board). Because SAT
scoring awards 200 points for mere completion of a section, even with no correct answers, it seems
improbable that these students were so unmotivated that such severely compromised scores should
result. Additionally, because past researchers, studying demographically similar populations, have
been able to report significant findings utilizing scores on the GRE, a more difficult standardized
test, without exceeding the motivation exercised in this design (leading participants to believe that
their scores would be used to compare their school to other schools across the United States), it
seems somewhat improbable that low motivation alone could have led to such low scores in the
current experiment (e.g., Inzlicht et al., 2006; Steele & Aronson, 1995).
For the 12 participants who completed the SAT items in the final questionnaire, pre-college
SAT verbal section scores were averaged and compared with the mean calculated experimental
SAT verbal score. This mean calculated experimental SAT verbal score, 320 points, was
dramatically lower than the mean reported pre-college score, 520 points. Although these figures
only reflect the data of 12 participants, it is likely that they are representative of those scores
obtained by the entire population: the overall mean experimental score was 300 points (compared
with the 320 points for the 12 reporters). Furthermore, 35 of 41 total participants reported the year
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in which they took the SAT, indicating that at least 85.37% of participants indeed took the SAT and
were familiar with this type of test format. The mean GPA for the 12 reporting participants was
3.33 (SD = 0.45), compared with 3.16 (SD = 0.44) for the entire population, further indicating this
subset as a representative sample. Thus, these results would most likely characterize those of the
entire population, revealing radically lower SAT scores than those previously demonstrated by the
participants. Though the current scores may be lower as a result of using only those questions of
medium and hard difficulty level, or because students may have utilized preparatory means to
achieve higher scores on their pre-college SAT scores, it is unlikely that such design elements
would have caused a 200-point discrepancy. This seems especially improbable after considering
that experimental scores were achieved when the population was older and had reached a higher
level of education, which should have counteracted, at least minimally, some of the effects of
difficulty level and lack of preparation. Also, although social desirability may have caused
participants to report scores higher than those they truly obtained, resulting in the observed score
deficit, this is unlikely as all participants’ written data were completely anonymous and
confidential. The particularly low scores in this design most likely reflect alternative phenomena.
One possible explanation is that the procedures outlined in this experiment aroused an
extreme sense of stereotype threat in African American participants. In order to maximize
observable effects, this design utilized verbal reasoning questions and asked participants to report
their race immediately preceding the testing period. In accordance with past research, this design
used verbal reasoning questions to evoke stereotype threat within African American test-takers, as
negative stereotypes are more often associated with the verbal abilities, rather than the
mathematical abilities, of African Americans (Inzlicht et al., 2006; Steele & Aronson, 1995).
Additionally, studies have shown that asking a member of a socially devalued group, such as
females or ethnic minorities, to report his or her gender or race immediately before beginning a test
Solo Status and Role Models 19
can elicit anxieties about being judged in relation to stereotypes associated with that group, causing
them to perform more poorly (e.g., Steele & Aronson). Because African American participants in
this experiment were asked both to complete a verbal reasoning test and to report their race before
beginning testing, it is highly probable that these factors contributed to the low scores observed in
all conditions, confirming the findings of past experimenters (e.g., Shih et al., 1999; Stangor et al,
1998; Steele & Aronson).
Alternatively, inflated perceived test difficulty may have increased participant anxiety
levels, resulting in compromised performance and lower test scores. In an attempt to amplify the
reinforcing, encouraging attributes of the role model, the test creator description sheet described the
teacher as a professor at a highly well-known, prestigious Ivy League university. Moreover, the
description also stated that the test creator administered the experimental verbal reasoning test in
his undergraduate English courses, in order to increase the plausibility of describing the professor
as the creator of the experimental test. Due to the recognizably prestigious university used in the
description, most participants would have almost certainly associated this test, claimed to be used in
classes at this university, as one that was academically rigorous. In accordance with past research,
it is possible that perceiving this test as highly difficult would have produced elevated levels of
anxiety within participants (Head & Lindsey, 1983). Research has also demonstrated that elevated
anxiety levels lead to underperformance on tests of academic ability, indicating that the anxiety
evoked by perceived test difficulty could very well have compromised the performance of
participants in this experiment, leading to lower test scores (e.g., Daniels & Hewitt, 1978; Head &
Lindsey; Ramond, 1953). The combined effect of these two phenomena could have certainly been
powerful enough to cause the 200 point deficit noted in this experiment.
Solo Status and Role Models 20
Results of the recall questionnaire also displayed interesting findings. As reported in the
results section, 84.62% of participants correctly identified the race of the teacher on their test
creator description sheet. This very high percentage, combined with no participant reports of
awareness that the test creator did not truly create and use this test in his classes, demonstrates that
this biographical description, utilizing photographs to display the teacher race, may be a valid
model for manipulation of this variable. For the Classroom Status conditions, 61.29% of
participants correctly reported their classroom as having either a White numeric majority or a Black
numeric majority. Though this figure is lower than that for the Teacher Race conditions, participant
reports concerning the race of the test creator in control teacher conditions, or those conditions for
which no photograph was included and thus no race was specified, illuminate some additional
information about knowledge of the racial distribution on student profile sheets. As previously
reported, five control teacher participants reported that the test creator was Black and five reported
that the test creator was White. Four out of the five participants in control teacher conditions who
reported the test creator was White were also in the solo status classroom condition, or that in
which eight out of ten students on the student profile sheet were identified as White. Three out of
five of the participants who identified the test creator as Black were in the group status classroom
condition, or that in which eight out of ten students on the student profile sheet were identified as
Black. Of the two students in the group status classroom that did not identify the test creator as
Black, one did not correctly identify the racial majority of the classroom and the other did not
report the race of the classroom. Therefore, although only about two-thirds of participants were
able to correctly identify the prominent classroom racial homogeneity using this biographical
description model, trends in teacher race identification would suggest that viewing the student
profile sheet did, at least subconsciously, affect the perceptions of participants as intended. For
Solo Status and Role Models 21
these reasons, the current research further validates Sekaquaptewa et al.’s (2007) model for creating
solo status conditions using biographical descriptions.
Considering the discussed implications of the current findings, the researcher suggests the
following approaches for improvement of the efficacy of this design in future studies:
1) Increasing the number of participants, and thus increasing power, should be a primary
goal of future researchers. If recruiting the large number of African American participants
necessary to adequately enhance power is not feasible, this experiment could alternatively be run
using women as solo status members among men. Although this would clearly only be a model for
the effects of other socially devalued minorities, such as African Americans, past research has
indicated similarities between the effects of stereotype threat and solo status on women among men
and African Americans among Whites in classroom settings (e.g., Beaton et al., 2007; Inzlicht &
Ben-Zeev, 2000; Saenz, 1994; Yoder & Sinnett, 1985).
2) Future research should attempt to alleviate the floor effects observed in this experiment.
One way to do this would be to change the university in the test creator description to one that is
less well known and academically rigorous. Also, easy level SAT questions, as well as the medium
and difficult level questions used in the current study, could be incorporated into the verbal
reasoning test. Though race reporting before testing may have lowered overall scores, it is not
recommended that this manipulation be altered, as it assists in eliciting the spontaneous self-
concept discussed by McGuire et al. (1978), increasing the awareness of participants as to the racial
similarities or dissimilarities between themselves, the teacher, and the students in the classroom.
Another way to increase scores may be to increase participant motivation. One way of doing this
may be to offer raffle tickets or a prize to those participants who score above a certain value, such
Solo Status and Role Models 22
as 80% and higher. All participants, regardless of actual score could be awarded the outlined
3) Researchers should also aim to increase the response rates among participants on the
recall questionnaire. Running this experiment in individual sessions, rather than during 20-person
class meetings, should improve the response rate, as increased reactivity, due to the one-on-one
nature of the individual session, would most likely cause participants to leave fewer questions
requiring answers blank. Individual experimental sessions may also lead to increased test scores
and increased effects of independent variables, as there would be fewer distractions during the
testing period and during study of the manipulative stimuli.
School achievement gaps between African Americans and Whites have been and continue
to be strikingly persistent in American society (Steele & Aronson, 1995). The grades of African
American high-school graduates average two-thirds of a letter grade lower than those of White
graduates (Steele & Aronson). Moreover, drop-out rates, often correlated with frequent and
prolonged academic failure, are 70% for African American college students compared with 42% for
White college students (Steele & Aronson). Although such problems are commonly attributed to
socioeconomic disadvantage or the segregation and discrimination continually endured by African
Americans and other socially devalued groups, an exponentially increasing body of research
questions the sufficiency of these explanations, pointing towards other social phenomena, such as
stereotype threat and solo status effects. Consequently, future research should continue to
investigate the effects of solo status and role models utilizing the above outlined suggestions,
expanding understanding of potential alleviators of racial, and other, achievement gaps in the
Solo Status and Role Models 23
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Solo Status and Role Models 26
Black Test Creator Description (BT) Sheet
Solo Status and Role Models 27
White Test Creator Description (WT) Sheet
Solo Status and Role Models 28
Control Test Creator Description (CT) Sheet
Solo Status and Role Models 29
Solo Status Student Profile (SS) Sheet
Solo Status and Role Models 30
Group Status Student Profile (GS) Sheet
Solo Status and Role Models 31
I would like to extend thanks to Dr. Edward Palmer for his immeasurable support and
guidance throughout the completion of this project. Also, thank you to Dr. Cole Barton, who made
important contributions to the design of this experiment. Thanks to Dr. Hariette Richard, Fatima
Fuller, Nicole Guiberteaux, and Candice Owens for their endless correspondence and help in
implementing the protocol of this study. Finally, thank you to my parents, who, through their
stunning examples, have instilled in me an appreciation of diversity and understanding of the
importance of its tolerance, inspiring my interest in this field of research.
Solo Status and Role Models 32
Mean Values as a Function of Study Condition
Condition GPA Calculated Raw SAT Score Calculated SAT Score
B-GS 3.12 (0.37) 4 (5) 290 (50)
B-SS 3.14 (0.32) 5 (5) 310 (50)
C-GS 2.43 (0.38)* 3 (6) 280 (60)
C-SS 3.22 (0.41) 9 (6) 340 (50)
W-GS 3.37 (0.45)* 5 (9) 300 (80)
W-SS 3.38 (0.47)* 6 (7) 310 (70)
Note. Values enclosed in parentheses represent standard deviations. B = Black teacher, C = control teacher,
W = White teacher, GS = group status classroom, SS = solo status classroom.
*p < .05. Mean GPA for C-GS significantly lower than W-GS and W-SS.
Solo Status and Role Models 33
Figure 1. Mean verbal reasoning test scores ( + SD) as a function of study condition.
Figure 2. Mean SAT verbal section scores for reporting participants ( + SD) as a function of testing