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

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  4,873 ratings  ·  565 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
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 4th 2011 by W. W. Norton Company (first published April 12th 2010)
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Trevor (I no longer get notified of comments)
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
Jul 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Dec 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was good, but I think some of this research has been updated since then. The start of the book had a nice framing of streotype threat, but I'm not sure all of the studies have been replicable or have held up over time  ...more
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
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  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
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us, Claude M. Steele explores identity contingencies and stereotype threat.

The title comes from a story shared by Brent Staples, who wrote for the New York Times. A black American, Staples didn’t like that his white neighbours would cross the street to avoid him at night. More specifically, he didn’t like that they experienced fear when they saw him, and so he began to walk along backstreets to spare them that painful experience. Th
Oct 29, 2014 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
Apr 15, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: completed-2021
finally writing a review because i think i have recovered enough from willis drilling this book into my head for like four months straight. not necessarily a "bad" book, there's a lot of insightful information and you can tell a lot of research went into writing this. plus i like how he added anecdotes to make the book easier to understand.
however, it's written terribly.
there's a constant repeating of the same concepts. it's painfully obvious that the author majored in STEM. every time I saw t
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brain, non-fiction, 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
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 19, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a poorly written book with a whole bunch of very similar examples, which were repeated and referred to over and over and over again. It could easily have made it's point in half the pages.

The book addresses stereotypes and how they affect how people learn. If you tell someone before a test that their particular stereotypical group doesn't do very well on this type of test, I'm not sure how you can be surprised when they don't do well, or that when they receive encouragement they do bett
Nov 24, 2020 rated it liked it
I think this is one of those semi-seminal texts that isn't exceptionally interesting to read. It's important, but like a lecture in an undergrad psych class -- you need to know this shit, it's important for what comes next, but it's framed (by the author's own almost-admission) as a bunch of journal articles. Like, Steele tries -- the narrative is cohesive, and we're following a clear arc of thinking. There are even some super non-descript characters (it's okay -- he's a psychologist, not a lit- ...more
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
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated that the studies discussed had lots of examples to make them relatable and easy to understand. Also covered how, why, and how can we fix this.
Book club
Kristen Curtiss
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good, but could have mentioned more about stereotyping and struggles faced by queer people, especially since gay was one of the identities on the front cover
Still, overall it was very interesting to read and made me question my own experiences
John Quinlisk
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 04, 2016 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.
May 03, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Neil Pierson
Mar 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stereotyping other people (for example, "clueless old white guy") is bad. Even when the stereotype is "good" ("Asian Americans are smart and hard-working"), it is dehumanizing and interferes with honest communication. Yeah, we know that.

This book looks at stereotyping from another angle: How do we react to the threat of being stereotyped? In the title example, a young Black man notices that when he comes across white people while walking on the sidewalk, they betray fear in subtle--or not--ways.
Ric White
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It seems that some people have a bit of an issue with the very specific focus of this book. However, as a math teacher in a fairly diverse school, I must say that it hit all the right points. The research is certainly repetitive, but I think it is done to get the point across that the observations are confirmed by more than one experiment. This is so important in a society overwhelmed by "facts" - just because someone tells you something is true - even if it's from research! - doesn't make it tr ...more
Chris Pratt
May 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a few “aha” moments while reading this book that made up for the few times where his conclusions from a particular experiment didn’t seem entirely logical to me.

A few random highlights: Looking at the behavior of others solely in terms of the external factors affecting them is missing a crucial perspective - the actor’s perspective (vs the observer’s). Having a “colorblind” hiring policy (hiring the best people without taking race into consideration at all) vs valuing and hiring specifical
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: serious, development
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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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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When author Amor Towles published his second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, in 2016, everything changed.   Towles’ first novel, Rules of...
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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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