If you have not heard the stereotype that white men can’t jump, you must be living under a rock. If you turned on a random NBA, NFL, MLB, or Track and Field competition, you will likely notice there are way more black men and women than white. What could cause this correlation? Since correlation does not equal causation, there might not be a biological difference between white people and other races that leads to the extreme ratio of black to white athletes, but there is a causing factor.
In a study conducted by two University of Arizona and two Princeton University researchers, the guiding hypothesis was “many people who participate in sports hold negative racial stereotypes about athletes, and when these stereotypes become salient in a performance context, they may threaten the self-worth of those to whom they apply.”
The experiment tested 40 men and 40 women on four athletic categories. Black and white participants were tested on their knowledge of golf through a questionnaire then all played 10 holes of golf and were later asked to rate their performance. The results of the experiment were fairly consistent with the hypothesis. The black participants played slightly better than the white participants on the golf course, which proves there was no advantage nor disadvantage in golf– a game that is professionally dominated by white athletes. In the post-golf diagnostic questionnaire, white and black participants believed the test was biased towards white peoples’ athletic strengths. When the black participants were told they were being observed on their sports intelligence they performed significantly worse than when they were told the test was framed as a diagnostic for natural athletic ability, which is a stereotype of black athletes. Also, white participants played worse golf when they believed the frame of the test was on natural athletic ability; many did not think the test was fair. These results show that when people were threatened with a negative stereotype, anxiety affected performance most of the time. Therefore, when an athletes self-worth is threatened by a negative stereotype, they will be affected and perform worse, thus confirming the stereotype.