The role of prevention focus under stereotype threat: Initial cognitive mobilization is followed by depletion

Tomas Ståhl, Colette Van Laar, Naomi Ellemers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Previous research has demonstrated that stereotype threat induces a prevention focus and impairs central executive functions. The present research examines how these 2 consequences of stereotype threat are related. The authors argue that the prevention focus is responsible for the effects of stereotype threat on executive functions and cognitive performance. However, because the prevention focus is adapted to deal with threatening situations, the authors propose that it also leads to some beneficial responses to stereotype threat. Specifically, because stereotype threat signals a high risk of failure, a prevention focus initiates immediate recruitment of cognitive control resources. The authors further argue that this response initially facilitates cognitive performance but that the additional cognitive demands associated with working under threat lead to cognitive depletion over time. Study 1 demonstrates that stereotype threat (vs. control) facilitates immediate cognitive control capacity during a stereotype-relevant task. Study 2 experimentally demonstrates the process by showing that stereotype threat (vs. control) facilitates cognitive control as a default, as well as when a prevention focus has been experimentally induced, but not when a promotion focus has been induced. Study 3 shows that stereotype threat facilitates initial math performance under a prevention focus, whereas no effect is found under a promotion focus. Consistent with previous research, however, stereotype threat impaired math performance over time under a prevention focus, but not under a promotion focus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1239-51
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Motivation
  • Netherlands
  • Stereotyping
  • Students
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult


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