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The Brain and Instruction Implications of Stereotype Threat Why w hat you say and how you say it matters.

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Presentation on theme: "The Brain and Instruction Implications of Stereotype Threat Why w hat you say and how you say it matters."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Brain and Instruction Implications of Stereotype Threat Why w hat you say and how you say it matters

2  Learning Outcomes  Brain 101  Mind/Brain 101  Link between education and science  Stereotype Threat  Functions of the brain in threatening environments  Specific teaching strategies  Questions and Feedback

3  Participants will:  Be re/introduced to the brain and basic features  Be introduced to the relationship between the Mind and the Brain  Be introduced to the relevance of brain research with education  Gain an understanding of stereotype threat and how it relates to learning and instruction  Learn how stereotype threat effects the mind/brain and ultimately the performance of select students  Be provided with two specific strategies detailing how to minimize the stereotype threat atmosphere with select students

4 The Brain

5 Any Questions?? This is your Brain on Drugs

6  Images and advertisements in the media, such as the last one, tend to cause people to distance themselves from anything regarding the brain  Unfortunately, advertisements can oversimplify the complexity of the brain  Your brain is a unique organ that helps regulate everything you see, hear, or do  Both consciously and unconsciously

7  Consists of two halves called hemispheres  Left and Right  These two halves are connected by the corpus callosum, which carries messages between the two hemispheres (Hall, 2005)  Each hemisphere is broken up into larger sections known as lobes  These 4 lobes are the: ▪ Frontal Lobe, Temporal Lobe, Parietal Lobe, and Occipital Lobe As some of you may remember seeing in Biology class in high school As some of you may remember from the popular WB show, the Animaniacs Photos courtesy of: &


9 Image courtesy of diagram-lobes&page=4 diagram-lobes&page=4

10  Functions of the lobes  Frontal lobe ▪ Primarily involved with planning and action  Temporal lobe ▪ Primarily involved with hearing, memory, and object recognition  Parietal lobe ▪ Primarily involved with sensation and spatial processing  Occipital lobe ▪ Primarily involved with vision (OCED, 2002; as cited by Hall, 2005)

11  So…what?  Why care about the different parts of the brain that are involved with different processes? ▪ Knowing which parts of the brain are involved with the functioning helps to identify what areas we are referencing as we start to understand the relationship between education and neuroscience ▪ It will help us understand how stereotype threat effects the brains of students  Essentially it is a roadmap so that when we get to where we are going, we know how we got there

12 Mind/Brain

13  The concept of mind/body originally derives from Rene Descarte  He posed the question whether the “world is mental or physical? Or, in today’s language, can your conscious experience be explained by neurons?” (p. 13, Baars and Gage, 2010) ▪ Consider for example a mental craving for chocolate, that leads you to go to the store to buy a physical piece of candy ▪ Are there specific parts of your brain that crave chocolate?  The concept of mind/brain is new and exciting  The current push is to find ways to bridge the gap between education and neuroscience

14 Education, meet Neuroscience

15  As instructors, how do you view students  As individuals  As beings capable of learning anything and everything  As blank slates ready to be imprinted with the knowledge of the world  What if all of your students were not the same?  What if some of your students learn differently based on neurological processes?  How would you ever know?

16  Neuroscience is the missing link  By using brain research  We can understand more concretely exactly how students learn  “Understanding the biological (organic) foundations of vision or hearing or use of the hands makes important practical contributions to facilitating students’ effective use of their eyes, ears, or hands and thus facilitates educational objectives.” (p. 71 Fischer et al., 2010)

17 Stereotype Threat

18  What is Stereotype Threat  “A predicament that can beset the members of any group about whom negative stereotypes exist.” (p. 797, Steele & Aronson, 1995)  “[F]or the person to be threatened in this way, he need not even believe the stereotype. He need only know that it stands as a hypothesis about him in situations where the stereotype is relevant.” (p. 798, Steele & Aronson, 1995)

19 Photos courtesy of:; Stereotypes-Affect-Minority-Children_b_13.html Stereotypes-Affect-Minority-Children_b_13.html

20  What stereotypes do the previous images address?  All African American students are not scholars, but instead gangsters  Women are inept when it comes to math  Asian students will excel in anything related to science

21  As instructors it is important to know that your students are well aware of the stereotypes held about them  “[I]n situations where the stereotype is applicable, one is at risk of confirming it as a self- characterization, both to one’s self and to others who know the stereotype” (p. 808, Steele & Aronson)

22  How stereotype threat manifests itself  Studies show that when a specific task is issued and described as measuring an item, such as intelligence, a group that feels threatened, for instance African Americans, will ultimately perform worse because of a perceived sense of inferiority (p. 134, Kit, Tuokko, & Mateer, 2008)  The perceived threat changes based on the identity of a student  This is because stereotype threat is most detrimental to individuals who are highly identified with their marginalized group (Pavlova, Wecker, Krombholz, & Sokolov, 2010) ▪ Therefore, female students who highly identify with their gender will be severely impacted in their learning when tested on a task, such as math, that elicits gender stereotypical performance

23  What is going on?  “[S]tereotypes have negative influences on both internal states and test performances.” (p. 134, Kit, Tuokko, & Mateer, 2008)  Building connections  The fact that students show poorer performances when in a perceived threatening environment is more than simply students reading into something too much ▪ Neuroscience shows that there are actually mental processes occurring that are restricting students from performing well

24 Warning!!!! Science Content Approaching


26  The frontal lobe, as described before, is influential in planning and action  It is also important as it is “a control center for functions such as paying attention selectively to one item rather than another, making plans and revising them when needed, [and] monitoring the world around us” (p. 399, Baars & Gage, 2010)  The frontal lobes have a part in practically all aspects of cognitive function (Baars & Gage, 2010)

27  Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC)  The most anterior (forward) part of the Frontal Lobes ▪ 4 important regions to know about ▪ Dorsolateral PFC ▪ Ventrolateral PFC ▪ Anerior PFC ▪ Medial PFC Baars & Gage, 2010

28  The functioning of the frontal lobe is sometimes referred to as the executive function  A central function of the PFC is the ability to make a plan and follow through  Other functions of the PFC include “conflict monitoring, emotion, and working memory” (p. 400, Baars & Gage, 2010)

29 Courtesy of

30  Working memory  Defined as the “ability to keep something in mind for a limited amount of time” (p. 408, Baars & Gage, 2010)  “It serves as an inward directed voluntary attention system” (p. 408, Fuster, 2008; as cited in Baars & Gage, 2010)  Perceived to be instrumental in helping to select the information that is needed to complete the task at hand (Baars & Gage, 2010)

31  Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)  Hypothesized to be crucial in the “inhibitory effect of frontal lobe processes” (p. 410, Baars & Gage, 2010)  May represent a function that helps reduce the effects of distractions to the executive planning function of the brain (Baars & Gage, 2010) ▪ It may play a part in helping to stay focused, thus allowing students to pay attention to one specific aspect while ignoring distractions that would cause them to think about other things (Baars & Gage, 2010)

32 Constructing the Bridge Image courtesy of

33  How does stereotype threat fit in with all of the aforementioned brain discussion?  Consider this: “[i]n patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortical lesions (areas involved in the PFC)…the impact of implicit stereotype messages is less” (Milner & Grafman, 2001; as cited in Pavlova, Wecker, Krombholz, & Sokolov, 2010) ▪ This signifies that there is an area of the brain, in this case the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, that is directly involved with how stereotyped messages are received ▪ Therefore, there is actually something happening in the brain to suggest that stereotyped messages can be interpreted in a very specific and detrimental way

34  Stereotype threat taxes the executive functions of the brain  Executive functioning is compromised by an overload on the system (Schmader, Johns, & Forbes, 2008; as cited in Derks, Inzlicht, & King, 2008) ▪ Students, when faced with the potential of embodying a negative stereotype, utilize the majority of their executive functioning by focusing on monitoring their performance and trying to constrain their emotions. Both of which limit the executive functioning, which is crucial for intellectual performance (Derks, Inzlicht, & King, 2008)

35  Overworked executive functions  All of the extra work on the executive functions limits students’ ability to actively call upon their working memory, which as noted above is crucial in helping to stay focused to the task at hand  Potential dysfunctional ACC  If students are distracted by their constant focus on stereotype threat, then the ACC may not be able to function properly to help block out the distractions and thus impair their ability to stay on task

36  How do we know this?  Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) data ▪ This tool tracks the shifting of oxygen in the brain and allows scientists to identify areas of activity in the brain and infer which parts are most closely related to specific cognitive or behavioral tasks (Bandettini, Birn, & Donahue, 2000; as cited in Derks, Inzlicht, & King, 2008)

37 The following are examples of what fMRI picture looks like  It is because of images, research, and a lot of analysis that scientist are able to use images such as these to identify areas of the brain that implicate the PFC, executive functioning, and the ACC in their role with stereotype threat Pictures courtesy of: ;; autism-and-related-developmental-research/brain-research-and-autism.aspx; autism-and-related-developmental-research/brain-research-and-autism.aspx

38 Applicability

39  How can you be intentional in your instructional setting about stereotype threat?  Be conscious of the words you use ▪ The act of simply saying that performance on an exam measures intelligence will undoubtedly put stereotyped groups on edge  Encourage students to excel, not overcome ▪ Reminding stereotyped groups that there is something to overcome may cause them to over-utilize their cognitive functions and instead of focusing on the task will spend crucial time focusing on what is meant by your assertion

40 Open Discussion

41  What are some strategies you think will work to help combat stereotype threat in your instructional setting?  How do you think brain research can be helpful to engage in conversations with your colleagues about stereotype threat?

42 Questions, Comments, Concerns

43 Baars, B. J., & Gage, N. M. (2010). Cognition, brain, and consciousness: Introduction to neuroscience (2nd ed.). Burlington, MA: Academic Press. Derks, B., Inzlicht, M., and Kang, S. (2008). The neuroscience of stigma and stereotype threat. Group Process & Intergroup Relations, 11, 163-181. Hall, J. (2005). A review of the contribution of brain science to teaching: A review of the contribution of brain science to teaching and learning. The Scottish Council for Research in Education, 1-35. Kit, K. A., Tuokko, H. A., and Mateer, C. A. (2008). A review of the stereotype threat literature and its application in a neurological population. Neuropsychological Review, 18, 132-148. Pavlova, M. A., Wecker, M., Krombholz, K, and Sokolov, A. A. (2010). Perception of intentions and actions: Gender stereotype susceptibility. Brain Research, 1311, 81-85. Steele, C. M., and Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of african americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.

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