A very smart Black man whom I will not name has been emailing me lately about Black-White IQ differences. It’s not exactly my favorite subject, as it’s so damn depressing (since I’m pro-Black), but nevertheless, I have been engaging him. It’s sad that the Nurture Crowd are falling back on Stereotype Threat (ST). At first it sounds like a brilliant argument, since it has apparently been proven in a number of strictly experimental situations.
But there is a problem with this argument, a deadly one that kills it right in its tracks. If you study ST threat long enough, you finally figure out the depressing truth that ST cannot possibly explain B-W differences in IQ or other tests or achievement results. Because all ST does is take the typical B-W differential in this lineup (let’s call it X) and add to it! It creates a score like X-10%. That is, under ST, Blacks do even worse against Whites than they would normally be expected to. That’s going to depress their scores, sure, but it can’t possibly be the reason for differential.
Thus, rather than showing that eliminating threat eliminates the large score gap on standardized tests, the research actually shows something very different.
Specifically, absent stereotype threat, the African American-White difference is just what one would expect based on the African American-White difference in SAT scores, whereas in the presence of stereotype threat, the difference is larger than would be expected based on the difference in SAT scores. (Sackett 2004.)
I’d much rather pin my hopes on a continuing Flynn Effect rather than silly stuff like ST. Black IQ’s have already been rising at 3 pts./decade for 70 years or so, and Black skulls have gotten much larger in the meantime. We can measure the scores and the skulls, and it’s all real and something to cheer about. Assuming this effect continues, and especially if it continues for Blacks but slows or stops for Whites, things could get interesting. Even if Blacks can’t make up the difference, 22 extra IQ points and much bigger skulls (and apparently many more brain cells) in the last 110 years is nothing to shake a stick at.
- Sackett PR, Hardison CM, Cullen MJ. January 2004. On Interpreting Stereotype Threat as Accounting for African American-White Differences on Cognitive Tests. Am Psychol 59 (1): 7–13.