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Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  3,951 ratings  ·  468 reviews
Through dramatic personal stories, Claude Steele shares the experiments and studies that show, again and again, that exposing subjects to stereotypes—merely reminding a group of female math majors about to take a math test, for example, that women are considered naturally inferior to men at math—impairs their performance in the area affected by the stereotype. Steele’s con ...more
Hardcover, 242 pages
Published April 12th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Nov 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, library
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
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: humanity
Recommended to Jillian by: Dina Stroud
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.
Matthew Zhang
Sep 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Maya Day
Jun 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
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
Mira Joseph
Whistling Vivaldi is a must-read in the age of identity politics and an excellent tool against tribalism (and I’m not saying that to be political-- the very terms “liberal” and conservative” have become tribal identities themselves). Steele offers a lay person’s peek into the scientific world, explaining his thought processes and backing all the conclusions he suggests with well-reasoned studies. Steele makes the important point that EVERY identity has contingencies, whether you’re white or blac ...more
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, brain, work
Why do some African-American students do poorly in high-tier, traditionally white colleges? Why and under what circumstances do women under-perform on math tests, and Asian women perform well on math tests? Why do white sprinters do poorly when measured against their black peers? As the author notes, "there exists no group on earth that is not negatively stereotyped in some way: the old, the young, Northerners, Southerners, WASPs, computer whiz kids, Californians and so forth." Everyone has a st ...more
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
John Quinlisk
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Talked about some very important and very fascinating stuff to do with stereotype threat. A v good read, I just got bogged down in all the research and studies a bit.
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
Matt Messinger
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jacob Elliott
Aug 06, 2015 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
João Martins
Aug 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about a research stream in social psychology attempting to explain the pernicious effects of stereotypes and stereotype risk on the behaviors of individuals susceptible to such risk. I did not expect to agree with, appreciate, or enjoy the book but my expectations were dashed and I devoured the book. Perhaps I was laboring under some stereotypes - or perhaps I did not do enough homework in advance.

The argument is not directly about stereotypes themselves - that members of some gro
May 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Interesting, in a Malcolm Gladwell sort of way.
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was familiar with the idea of "stereotype threat" before reading this book, but I was missing many of the key components that make it so fascinating and so pervasive. In an approach that not all readers will like but which I personally appreciated, Steele walks us step by step through his research, from the initial conception of the idea of stereotype threat to the experiments he and his colleagues designed, and he highlights in detail the experiments that were being done by other researchers ...more
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Whistling Vivaldi is an exploration of identities and the impacts when they're stereotyped. All of us have multiple identities associated with us- female, male, gender non-conforming, Asian, Muslim, Indian, Greek, homosexual, so on and so forth. These identities not only define some aspect of our personalities but often, directly or indirectly, mark our positions in a given society. Besides, all of the identities have some or the other stereotypes associated with them. These could be positive, n ...more
First off, Steele's research seems rock solid. He repeats more or less the same results, each time with slightly different (and more general) implications. Sometimes the results seem too "neat" to be true but as Steele notes, the only thing a scientist can do in a situation like that reproduce his results convincingly. And Steele does that more than enough times.

Stereotype Threat is a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about
Jordan Kirkwood
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: development, serious
What an illuminating read, now I've read it I can't unknow it, which is a blessing and a curse. Steele explores identity threats in such an understandable and applicable way, very inspiring experiments matched with some tangible things we can do in our personal and work lives to improve the chances of all, whether it's running in a race, applying to university, taking part in sport, or deciding where to sit on the bus.

It's incredible how the stereotype threat can impact on anyone and everyone,
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-justice
Highly recommended for anyone interested in supporting the success of diverse individuals. Dr. Steele gives detailed descriptions of a series of experiments that over time elucidate the ideas of stereotype and identity threat and ends with how institutions and individuals can combat these threats. It explains why minority individuals sometimes do less well on standardized tests and other measures of success even when they are well prepared, and provides practical advice on how to help these indi ...more
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has some amazing stories of the threat different groups of people are under given a situation that could prove/disprove a stereotype about them. Stereotype threat is real!! In these pages, the author gives a summary of a lot of research that him and his colleagues have done. At some points, I found this book to be research heavy. In fact, the one chapter which was supposed to give ideas on how to help students overcome stereotype threat, I found to be one of these chapters. I had hoped ...more
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love social science research and this is a long litany of the scholarship done to help get at how and why identity threats shape the performance of students. I’m sure some of it is true for the workplace as well. I wish there was more specific instruction for how to get rid of some of the cues that tell certain groups they are less than or not welcome. I really appreciated how he showed the scholarship that reveals most is this isn’t because people are prejudiced around gender or race etc but ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4cs
The research is thought provoking and it’s an important read for teachers, I think. My only complaint was I found the constant need to come back to two or three examples distracting, but it is possible this is part of Steele’s own techniques.
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting book that researches why certain groups are bad at different tasks, research presented in the book is very well done and dispels the common myth that certain groups are inherently bad at some tasks (like women with mathematics). Minorities face an identity threat on an ongoing basis and it causes a non-trivial amount of cognitive load on them. As someone who feels this kind of pressure on a regular basis, I was really happy to read this research. The book is a bit repetitive though a ...more
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting insights especially relevant for educators, but useful for many people. Steele is an engaging voice and melds personal narratives with academic research methods and findings.

I was fortunate enough to terrific conversations with people who saw me reading this book, too. Inspired some great convo which was a fun and influential plus!
Dustin Hanvey
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Heavily researched and bold in its thesis. Glad we were all asked to read it as a faculty.
Richard Saunders
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Terrific insight into how stereotyping affects our actions. Readable, interesting, and terrifically relevant to anyone. I picked it up because SUU faculty and administration are reading this as part of an internal initiative on inclusion and retention.

Though I work hard personally not to be bound by prejudice, I got a clear picture how unconscious preferences and expectations can affect people. Strongly recommend this book to anyone with political views, who is in education, or who interacts wi
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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.

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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.” 2 likes
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