Stereotype threat and intellectual virtue

In Owen Flanagan & Abrol Fairweather (eds.), Naturalizing Virtue. Cambridge University Press. pp. 155-74 (2014)
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For decades, intelligence and achievement tests have registered significant differences between people of different races, ethnicities, classes, and genders. We argue that most of these differences are explained not as reflections of differences in the distribution of intellectual virtues but as evidence for the metacognitive mediation of the intellectual virtues. For example, in the United States, blacks typically score worse than whites on tests of mathematics. This might lead one to think that fewer blacks possess the relevant intellectual virtues, or that they possess them less fully. However, research on stereotype threat shows that when blacks are not reminded of their race, they do much better on these tests than when they are. Simply raising to salience the race of the student triggers the activation of the stereotype, which in turn leads to poorer performance. However, learning about stereotype threat to a large extent immunizes people against it. This suggests that the psycho-social dimension of intelligence that recognizes the possibility of effects like stereotype threat is a crucial mediating variable in the development and expression of the intellectual virtues. The Socratic, “Know thyself” needs to be expanded to, “Know thyself and thy society.” Self-knowledge and knowledge of relevant stereotypes are a necessary condition for optimal development and expression of the other intellectual virtues.



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Mark Alfano
Macquarie University

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