Distinctiveness-based stereotype threat and the moderating role of coaction contexts

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Two experiments, using computer avatars, examined the role of coaction contexts (competition versus cooperation) in distinctiveness-based stereotype threat. In Experiment 1, African-American participants performed an anagram-solving task with two ostensible coactors either in a high-distinctiveness (participant being a numerical minority with two Caucasian coactors) or in a low-distinctiveness (racial-cues absent with silhouette-image avatars) environment; coaction contexts were structured either in terms of competition or in terms of cooperation. Participants situated in the high-distinctiveness environment performed better when they engaged in cooperation than in competition whereas those in the low-distinctive environment did not show a significant difference. In Experiment 2, which was conducted to replicate and extend Experiment 1 with a different social category/domain, females took a Mathematics test with two ostensible coactors. Whereas the competition versus cooperation difference was not significant among participants placed in a low-distinctiveness (female-majority or all-female) environment, participants situated in a high-distinctiveness (female-minority) environment showed significantly lower levels of stereotype-associated concerns and better performance on the math test in cooperation than in competition. Our findings suggest that distinctiveness-based stereotype threat is less likely to occur when the context of group performance is framed as cooperation as opposed to competition. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.