What’s an easy way to improve how African Americans score on IQ tests?


Just don’t call it an IQ test.

In this study, when the exam was introduced as an IQ test, Caucasian students outscored African American students.

When the same test was labeled a “set of puzzles”, the results were reversed. It’s a classic example of stereotype threat.

Via Timothy Wilson’s book Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change.

Surely it doesn’t matter whether the test is described as a measure of IQ or a set of puzzles. Well, it turns out it does matter, and it matters a lot, at least to one group of people: African Americans. As seen in the figure opposite, when the test was described as a measure of IQ, the standard achievement gap was evident: whites outperformed blacks, to about the same extent as is typically found on other measures of intelligence and achievement. When participants received the standard instructions, which described the test as a measure of observation and clear thinking, the achievement gap was still present, but to a lesser degree. But look what happened when the test was described as a set of puzzles: as seen in the two bars on the far right of the figure, the achievement gap completely disappeared! In fact, in this condition, African American students did slightly better than white students. What was going on here? Clearly, something about the way in which the students interpreted the test made a big difference in their performance—something that isn’t supposed to happen on tests of intelligence or achievement.


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