Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research

Faculty Sponsor

Tara T. Lineweaver


Stereotype threat has been researched in a variety of contexts such as African Americans’ intellect, older adults’ memory, and women’s performance in math. Despite this extensive research, little has been done in the domain of mental illness. This study examines whether stereotype threat can be induced in people high in obsessive compulsive (OC) symptoms. We hypothesized that, when given explicit information about their OC tendencies, individuals high in OC symptoms would perform less well on cognitive tests in a messy than a clean environment compared to those low in OC symptoms. Group testing sessions included a mix of college students high (n=25) and low (n=22) in OC symptomatology. The classroom and testing packets were either messy or clean. At the beginning of the session, participants were given confidential, accurate information about their OC tendencies before completing tests of concentration and immediate and delayed memory. Across the four tests, the High and Low OC groups performed similarly in a non-threat inducing clean environment. However, in a threat-inducing messy environment the High OC group showed a strong tendency to perform less well than the Low OC group on a test of auditory attention. Thus, our results suggest that individuals with OCD or related symptoms may be susceptible to stereotype threat, much like other vulnerable populations.