Researcher says jocks are victims of stereotyping and discrimination

The stereotype of the virginal nerd has its counterpart in the stereotype of the dumb jock. And one researcher at Michigan State has just published a study showing that college athletes' grades may be suffering because everyone tells them that they're stupid.

According to a release from Michigan State:

The study focused on the concept of “stereotype threat.” The theory holds that stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies: They create anxiety in the stereotyped group, causing them to behave in the expected way.

[Kinesthesiologist and lead researcher] Deborah Feltz and her graduate students wanted to see what factors influence student-athletes’ susceptibility to the “dumb jock” stereotype.

“It’s well-documented in the literature that many student-athletes hear prejudicial remarks from professors who say things like, ‘This test is easy enough that even an athlete could pass it,’” Feltz said. “They’re kind of the last group of students who can be openly discriminated against.”

The researchers surveyed more than 300 student-athletes representing men’s and women’s teams from small and large universities and a range of sports, from basketball and football to cross-country and rowing.

They found the more strongly student-athletes identified themselves as athletes, the less confident they were with their academic skills, and the more keenly they felt that others expected them to do poorly in school. Players in high-profile sports were more likely to feel they were weak students.

Stereotype priming has been widely documented in other studies, some of which revealed that women perform significantly less well on math and science tests if they're told beforehand that women aren't good at math and science. Clearly, priming works on other groups too. This begs the question of whether geeks might be less socially awkward if they weren't told all the time that being smart means that you can't possibly be a social butterfly or extrovert.

Feltz, the Michigan State researcher, pointed out that priming can work in a positive way too. She found that when coaches remind their athletes that they are college students, with scholarly responsibilities, the team members have more confidence in class and get better grades.

Read the full study on "dumb jock" stereotypes at the Journal of College Student Development.