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Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time) Paperback – April 4, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 141 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Conveys an understanding of why race remains such a powerful factor even in a society where racial discrimination is seen as abhorrent.” (Adam Serwer - American Prospect)

“Startles, beguiles, and challenges as it exposes the myriad ways that threats to our identities exert a powerful stranglehold on our individual and collective psyche.” (Lani Guinier, Harvard University)

“An intellectual odyssey of the first order―a true tour de force.” (William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation)

About the Author

Claude Steele is the provost of Columbia University. He is the author of numerous published articles and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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Product Details

  • Series: Issues of Our Time
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393339726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393339727
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book by social psychologist and Columbia University provost, Claude Steele, is a splendid example of how psychologists can make valuable contributions to society. In the book, Steele writes about the work he and his colleagues have done on a phenomenon called stereotype threat, the tendency to expect, perceive, and be influenced by negative stereotypes about one's social category, such as one's age, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, profession, nationality, political affiliation, mental health status, and so on.

Experiments demonstrating the impact of stereotype threat
When trying to understand certain performance gaps between groups, Steele and his colleagues did not focus on internal psychological factors.. Instead, they tried to understand the possible causal role of identity contingencies, the things you have to deal with in a situation because you have a given social identity. Over the years they carried out a series of creative experiments* in which there was a control condition in which a task was given under normal conditions life. In the experimental condition, the identity contingency was either cleverly removed or it was deliberately induced. Here are three examples of experiments to clarify how they worked.

Experiment 1: Steele and Aronson (1995)
In this experiment the researchers had African American and white college students take a very challenging standardized test. In the control condition, the test was presented as these tests are always presented - as a measure of intellectual ability. This condition contained the stereotype that African Americans would be less intelligent. In the experimental condition the test was presented in a non-evaluative way.
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Format: Hardcover
"Whistling Vivaldi," a new study of cultural stereotypes by Claude M. Steele, is a surprising book. Within its pages, the highly thought-of social psychologist shows us how, even in the absence of explicit racism, negative stereotypes can continue to pervade American life, and have far-reaching influences on our behavior. Before writing it, Steele did more than two decades of systematic research of minority student performance, as well as a wide range of experiments on other situations where stereotypes can come into play. He also cites, in the book, many other experiments in social psychology that explored this and related subjects: many of which he apparently inspired.

Within these pages, Steele reveals the powerful, hidden "stereotype threat" that can lie within most competitive situations. He defines it as the great, but invisible pressure created by our fear of confirming negative cultural stereotypes about ourselves. He shows how it can affect white men racing against blacks, or playing basketball against them, when blacks are thought to be fleeter of foot. It can also affect white men competing against Asians in university settings. It can also be shown to affect highly-achieving women studying mathematics or sciences, who have internalized our culture's belief that women are naturally inferior to men in these areas. He also shows that it affects higher-ranking black students in our nation's elite colleges, and even its better-ranking high schools.
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Format: Hardcover
As a white man working around Asia, places like China, Korea and Japan, and wishing to stay here, I absolutely have to deal with the issue of race and stereotype. What may seem trivial now, as a single caucasian man, may at some point (eg. getting married, raising biracial children) become an issue for me and my family. And for anyone not living in Asia, there are class and racial divisions all over the world, as students and co-workers form cliques along predictable lines.

I remember in University, taking an Intermediate Mandarin class, where all the different ethnic and social groups would-unknowingly- cluster together perfectly: there were the white kids, the Chinese born Canadians, the Hong Kong kids, the Bi-racial kids, the Koreans, and some Philippinos. It was only several weeks into the class that I noticed these convenient groupings (I had done the exact same with my white friends). Were we racist? Were we trying to reject the other classmembers (and the Chinese teacher!)? Not at all. We enjoyed the arrangement, subconscious though it may have been.

But I do remember another class I took (briefly). It was an Asian studies course. There was one other white person in the class (phew!), and the goal of the class was to research the rich Asian influences in our community. This was a heavy course, and considered high-end credit, meaning very intensive projects. I was almost certain to be working later in Asia (that's why I signed up in the first place), but I felt like I shouldn't be there, and I felt like a fraud, that my research would be scrutinized, and my `findings' would be immediately dismissed, as they were coming from a Caucasian student.
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