When Being Bilingual Hurts: Reminding Latino Students that Spanish is the Primary Language at Home May Hurt Subsequent Performance on a Verbal Test

Joel Portillo : Psychology

Mentor: Professor Kaiping Peng, Psychology

Latinos and Blacks score the lowest on the SAT verbal section. Considering the weight that universities give to SATs when considering admissions, the implications of these statistics are great. Research documents the negative effects of stereotype threat, a fear of confirming negative stereotypes about a group with which one identifies, on performance in standardized tests. For example, reminding Blacks of their race prior to taking a standardized test impairs their performance. While race has been widely studied, the role of a subject’s primary language at home in activating stereotype threat has been ignored. Joel’s research aims to test whether language considered “non-standard English” activates stereotype threat, thus affecting the performance of bilingual Latino subjects on a difficult verbal test. This research will help to elucidate one of the possible impediments to Latinos’ academic success, further suggesting ways to boost achievement.