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Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  2,088 Ratings  ·  293 Reviews
Claude M. Steele, who has been called “one of the few great social psychologists,” offers a vivid first-person account of the research that supports his groundbreaking conclusions on stereotypes and identity. He sheds new light on American social phenomena from racial and gender gaps in test scores to the belief in the superior athletic prowess of black men, and lays out a ...more
ebook, 242 pages
Published April 4th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published April 12th 2010)
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Nov 22, 2014 Trevor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You do need to get your hands on this book, although, I suspect it might not be all that easy - but whatever effort is involved will be rewarded.

Years ago I read something that hasn't let go of me since. It was a couple of pages in Predictably Irrational where he described an experiment with a group of Asian girls given a test in mathematics. The thing is that Asian girls belong to two oppositely stereotyped groups. As girls they are in a group that is defined as hopeless at maths - as Asians th
Amrita Singh
i just finished whistling vivaldi! excellent points were obviously made, but i can't help but feel that it was repetitive and that its facts were almost over-supported with evidence (almost the same conclusions are reached over and over and over again). this could simply be because of its nature as a scholarly novel and an exploration of the author's focus in his career.

i think that too much time was spent exploring what exactly identity threat was (at times i wanted to throw my hands in the ai
Elizabeth Hunter
At last there is theory and evidence to explain under-performance by various groups in academic and professional settings that does not fall back on the idea that, for example, women simply aren't as good as men at math and science, that black students can't hack it in university, that older workers are simply inferior to younger workers. That idea is stereotype-threat, the concern that one's performance may conform to a negative stereotype of one's group, which results in an extra cognitive loa ...more
Matthew Zhang
Drawn in by the array of colorful, minimalistic lettering and the promise of “an intellectual odyssey of the first order” on the front cover, I was, for once, excited to read the summer’s required reading: “Whistling Vivaldi.” Distributed by Northwestern for the Class of 2018 freshmen, the novel’s subject matter - as summarized by the subtitle, “how stereotypes affect us and what we can do” - was a fairly obvious topic to introduce to a student entering an environment lush with diversity, but no ...more
Jul 31, 2015 Jillian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: humanity
Recommended to Jillian by: Dina Stroud
Shelves: nonfiction, race
This book is a thorough exploration of Stereotype Threat and all of its repercussions. I consider myself fairly well-versed in this topic, but at times I was absolutely astounded by what I read.

You should read this if you are a person of color, or a woman, or if you know any people of color or any women, and definitely if you are an educator of people of color and/or women. I guess if you live on a planet of homogeneous white men you can skip it.
A short (and yet still too long) synthesis of studies around the idea of identity threat that contains interesting research but sadly fails utterly as a book.

Steele's thesis is important: prejudice and overt discrimination are not the only cause of disparities in performances between groups. In fact, fear about confirming a negative stereotype can consume valuable mental resources and depress performance (in both the short and long terms).

Now imagine that paragraph being written in different w
Jan 18, 2015 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who interacts with humans
I checked this book out of the library and then studiously avoided it. I renewed it three times while it taunted me from a shelf, and didn't crack it open until two days before it was for-real due.

I was familiar with the author's published articles already so knew roughly what the content would be. But it was hard to sit down to read about stereotype threat when I swim in it regularly as a gender minority in my field.

I thought reading the research on the topic would cause me to over-analyze my
Jun 22, 2010 Ann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, in a Malcolm Gladwell sort of way.
Aug 15, 2014 Camille rated it really liked it
Social psychologist Claude M. Steele is the author of Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. The book provides a description of the research and findings by Steele and his colleagues on stereotypes and identity and explains the “performance gap” between stereotyped and non-stereotyped groups. Their work has illuminated the phenomenon of “stereotype threat” - a fear that one’s behavior may in fact confirm the stereotypes related to one’s social category, e. g. race, sex, ...more
Maya Day
Jun 26, 2016 Maya Day rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was required reading for school next year, and I have lot of mixed feelings about it. It has a lot of flaws but some redeeming qualities.
It was boring in its repetition of the very obvious finding that, yes, stereotypes affect the way we perform, not biology. This is what he called a "stereotype threat," and the book mostly consisted of very similar studies that all confirmed the same obvious conclusion.
It also stressed me out in its futility over the individual's ability to control this
Sep 06, 2016 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was really interesting and thought provoking. I especially liked reading about the different experiments. Could have been improved by cutting down on the amount of repetition and spending more time on implications and recommendations.
Matt Messinger
Dec 13, 2015 Matt Messinger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd rate this book a 4.5 stars. It changed the way I view the world, providing insight on stereotypes and how they can influence everyone. This book centers around the concept of "stereotype threat". Stereotype threat is the anxiety a person feels when he is trying to complete a task he cares about but he feels increased pressure because he does not want to affirm a negative generalization about himself. That is a confusing definition so I think I can best explain by example. Two groups of stude ...more
I can't believe I didn't know about stereotype threat before learning about it in grad school this past year. I was fascinated and had to read Steele's book. The basic idea of stereotype threat is that people underperform in areas that are important to them when they are worried that poor performance will confirm a negative stereotype about part of their identity. Steele and other researchers have done numerous studies to test and validate their theories and one of my favorite aspects of the boo ...more
Morgan Blackledge
May 17, 2014 Morgan Blackledge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whistling Vivaldi is the (unfortunately titled but none the less excellent) popularization of author Claude Steele (and colleagues) research into the phenomena of stereotype threat.

Stereotype threat is the experience of anxiety in a situation in which a person has the potential to confirm a negative stereotype about his or her social group.

Stereotype threat has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotyped groups.

For example: when African Americans wer
Jacob Elliott
Aug 07, 2015 Jacob Elliott rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wish I could give this book zero out of five stars for the soul purpose that it doesn't refer to people as people, but as things. This book places everyone in a certain box and doesn't seem to ever refer to them as a human being. The author writes in such broad terms like "black" "white" "man" "woman" that he doesn't ever reflect the fact that we are all just people underneath all that. Also, there was a huge bias towards certain groups of people in this novel, and a complete ignorance to othe ...more
Sep 17, 2016 Keyton rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
He ran through some interesting studies and had some interesting conclusions.

But! It was also strangely and annoyingly repetitive. Like, "here's an interesting thought - let me repeat it ad nauseum with slightly different wording over the next 20 pages"-repetitive. It probably should have been boiled down to an excellent blog post.
Feb 05, 2016 Jocelyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whistling Vivaldi is what you do when you’re a black man walking through a white neighborhood. Do they suspect you of criminal intent? Even if they don’t, who knows! They might! So, you demonstrate your easy familiarity with white culture. That way, you can deflect stereotype threat.

Steele and his colleagues think of stereotype threat as a result of “the pressure of group stereotypes”; a pressure that comes into play when people’s “performance [can] confirm a bad view of their group and of thems
João Martins
Aug 04, 2014 João Martins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My one criticism of this book is its long-windedness. It's not that it's long (220 pages for the paperback), just that it could've been 150 pages or less and contain precisely the same information.

The book takes its readers through a gradual understanding of the phenomenon of "identity threat", in which a fear, conscious or not, of being negatively stereotyped leads to impaired capabilities. The concept is actually more general than this, but this facet of it is easier to understand.

The author i
Jun 08, 2014 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Tim Wise
An elegant little book reviewing decades of research showing that people live up to the negative stereotypes about their groups when those stereotypes are invoked by the situation, and not when the situation is reframed to take the stereotype out. Girls are just as good at math as boys except when the situation reminds them that they’re not supposed to be; African Americans students are just as good at analyzing literature as white kids except when they’re reminded they aren’t; we’re all better ...more
Paul Goble
Apr 16, 2011 Paul Goble rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A leading social psychologist presents a compelling overview and personal history of the field of "stereotype threat." Even when prejudice is not actually present, the mere thought that ones underperformance might confirm a negative stereotype about ones identity group (blacks, males, whites, females, etc) creates stress which then causes underperformance. This phenomenon has been amply demonstrated through laboratory experiments then confirmed in "real world" tests. Ongoing research is now show ...more
Colleen Moore
Jun 11, 2011 Colleen Moore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How does the simple fact of who you are affect your performance and feelings? This book addresses how situations, our assumptions about situations, and our identities can combine to put us at ease or on edge. When we're on edge, we can underperform. Although the book centers on racial identity, all of us have multiple aspects of our identities that can affect us powerfully, depending on the situation. The last three chapters show how to reduce the negative effects of identity threats. Interestin ...more
Apr 07, 2011 Krista rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such an important book for educators-- for everyone, really-- who want to make schools (or work places or any setting where people from different backgrounds come together) more inviting and supportive for people from all identity groups. Fascinating look at what Steele calls stereotype or identity threat and how it affects the performance of people within a threatened group in myriad ways. Also looks at what things might be done to mitigate such a threat. Heard about the book from T.R. at June ...more
Cara Byrne
May 24, 2015 Cara Byrne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"If you want to change the behaviors and outcomes associated with social identity - say, too few women in computer science - don't focus on changing the internal manifestations of the identity, such as values, and attitudes. Focus instead on changing the contingencies to which all of that internal stuff is adaptation" (84).

What a remarkably smart, compelling read that follows recent studies that trace how stereotypes consistently influence one's behavior when s/he is in particular environments,
Thorn MotherIssues
Sep 25, 2011 Thorn MotherIssues rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2011
An absolute must-read for parents and teachers, this branches off from the finding that people do worse on tests if doing badly would reflect negatively on them by conforming to stereotypical expectations of a stigmatized group to which they belong. So girls do worse on math tests if they're in any way aware of the idea that boys are better at math, etc. Despite the cover, the book basically only deals with race and gender, but gives a lot of details about the way identity threat or stereotype t ...more
Mary Whisner
Steele reports on about 30 years of psychological experiments exploring how people act when they are in a situation where they might be stereotyped negative. One or two experiments would make good anecdotes, but the basic studies have been replicated hundreds of times in many contexts. Together the body of research is very persuasive.

The closing chapters offer some ideas for how to make things better--e.g., how a white teacher can give critical feedback to a black student that will be trusted (b
Liz De Coster
A thorough look at the research Steele and his associates have done into issues of stereotype threat, or how awareness of stereotypes (cultural, economic, ethnic, racial, etc.) impacts individual performance. Steele makes a strong case for the pervasiveness of stereotype threat and the depth of its impact, but towards the end, it did begin to feel repetitive.
Fascinating analysis of stereotypes and their impact on social acclimation and achievement. Certainly worth a look.
Demyan Rossouw
Apr 09, 2012 Demyan Rossouw rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The book initially intrigues me very much so. However, I had to force myself to read it as it progressed. Regrettably it failed to grip me. I found the research (and comments) repetitive.
I highly recommend this book! It made me question a lot of conventional wisdom about the underperformance of certain groups, and gave me a new way of understanding people's behaviors and motivations.
May 28, 2012 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have to figure out a way to get more of my students to read and discuss this book...
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Claude M. Steele is a former professor at Stanford University who is now executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley.

The above is from the website of Smith College, where Steele's Book Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues To How Stereotypes Affect Us has been chosen for the 2014 Summer Read Program for first year students.
More about Claude M. Steele...

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“The problem is that the pressure to disprove a stereotype changes what you are about in a situation. It gives you an additional task. In addition to learning new skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking in a schooling situation, or in addition to trying to perform well in a workplace like the women in the high-tech firms, you are also trying to slay a ghost in the room, the negative stereotype and its allegation about you and your group. You are multitasking, and because the stakes involved are high--survival and success versus failure in an area that is important to you--this multitasking is stressful and distracting.

...And when you realize that this stressful experience is probably a chronic feature of the stetting for you, it can be difficult for you to stay in the setting, to sustain your motivation to succeed there. Disproving a stereotype is a Sisyphean task; something you have to do over and over again as long as your are in the domain where the stereotype applies. Jeff seemed to feel this way about Berkeley, that he couldn't find a place there where he could be seen as belonging. When men drop out of quantitative majors in college, it is usually because they have bad grades. But when women drop out of quantitative majors in college it usually has nothing to do with their grades. The culprit, in their case, is not their quantitative skills but, more likely, the prospect of living a significant portion of their lives in a domain where they may forever have to prove themselves--and with the chronic stress that goes with that.

This is not an argument against trying hard, or against choosing the stressful path. There is no development without effort; and there is seldom great achievement, or boundary breaking, without stress. And to the benefit of us all, many people have stood up to these pressures...The focus here, instead, is on what has to be gotten out of he way to make these playing fields mere level. People experiencing stereotype threat are already trying hard. They're identified with their performance. They have motivation. It's the extra ghost slaying that is in their way.”
“Some years ago, two social psychologists, Edward Jones and Richard Nisbett, argued that when it comes to explaining people's behavior-something like achievement problems, for example there is a big difference between the "observer's perspective"-the perspective of a person observing the behavior-and the "actor's perspective"-the perspective of a person doing the behavior. As observers, Jones and Nisbett said, we're looking at the actor, the person doing the behavior we are trying to explain. Thus the actor dominates our literal and mental visual field, which makes the circumstances to which he is responding less visible to us. In the resulting picture in our minds, the actor sticks out like a sore thumb and the circumstances to which he is responding are obscured from view. Jones and Nisbett held that this picture causes a bias when we try to explain the actor's behavior. We emphasize the things we can see. We emphasize things about the actor-characteristics, traits, and so on-that seem like plausible explanations for her behavior. And we deemphasize, as causes of her behavior, the things we can't see very well, namely, the circumstances to which she is adapting.” 1 likes
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