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Prof. Steven Stroessner on the role of stereotype threat in NFL officiating

Psychology professor Steven Stroessner is quoted in an article about the National Football League's replacement referees, who experienced a phenomenon called "stereotype threat." An excerpt:

"One of the biggest surprises of the replacement ref saga was how the new guys seemed to get worse and worse with each game. While the regulars might have some preseason rust, the replacements corroded by the week. There may be a psychological reason for that. It's called "stereotype threat," which is defined by Barnard College professor Steven Stroessner as "when performance is harmed by an awareness of an expectation of poor performance." Stroessner explains that when a group is widely expected to fare poorly at a task, the pressure of that negative perception takes up crucial brain space needed for a job well done. And then the members of that group – in this case the replacement refs – screw up.

"We know when there's an expectation of poor performance, and that can have a few predictable consequences," Stroessner says. "It does reduce working memory capacity. There are fewer cognitive resources. When you're in a high-stakes situation, dealing with a lot of information, you've also got additional worries about the situation: 'I hope I don't blow this. Everyone's expecting me to get this wrong.' "

The antidote to this? Stroessner has a simple answer: "Lots of practice.""

Prof. Stroessner's research is in the area of social cognition, with particular interest in the roles that cognitive, affective, and motivational factors play in stereotyping processes.