Levelling Up on Stereotype Threat: The Role of Psychological Connection to Avatar in Math Performance

Rabindra Ratan and Young June Sah


Avatar identity can induce stereotype threat, which means that some people conform to the stereotypes about this identity and thereby perform in accordance with the stereotype. Specfically, people who used female avatars in a competitive math task performed worse than people who used male avatars, regardless of the individual's sex (Lee, 2009). The present study attempted to replicate these finding and investigated the role of connection to the avatar in this effect. It was hypothesized that people would be affected by stereotype threat when they use a gendered avatar, and that this effect would be moderated by feelings of connection to the avatar. A 2 (avatar customization: customized vs. generic) X 2 (avatar gender: female vs. male) between-subjects experiment found that females who customized and used a female avatar scored lower on the math task than did those who customized and used male avatar. Further, body-level connection to the avatar was unexpectedly found to hinder the stereotype threat effect, most likley because such a connection leads to arousal, which inhibits performance on some cognitive tasks. Overall, this research suggests that certain types of connections to certain avatar identities can be used to combat stereotype threat.