Racial stereotypes and achievement -linked identity formation during adolescence: An investigation of athletic investment and academic resilience

Vinay Harpalani, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines how common racial stereotypes impact achievement-inked identity formation among urban adolescent youth. Many racial stereotypes center on human abilities such as intelligence, where Black Americans are stigmatized as innately inferior, and athletic prowess, where they are thought to naturally excel. Adolescence is a particularly salient period for such stereotypes, as youth are negotiating normative developmental tasks, including identity formation and demonstration of competence. Stereotypes related to athletic and academic abilities can impact how racially diverse youth negotiate this transition, influencing youth activities, peer group formation, motivation, and self concept. Some researchers contend that Black youth have internalized common racial stereotypes and culturally reproduced them by devaluing schoolwork in favor of sports—a debated hypothesis. Major questions addressed in this dissertation are: (1) What racial/ethnic differences, if any, exist in adolescent sports participation patterns, and what knowledge does this information provide about common racial stereotypes? (2) What racial/ethnic differences exist, if any, in athletic self concept among adolescents, and what knowledge does this information provide about identity formation and the developmental consequences of racial stereotypes? (3) What is the relationship, if any, between athletic investment and academic resilience during adolescence, and what knowledge does this provide about the linkages between racial stereotypes of athletic and intellectual abilities? (4) How do all of these patterns vary by gender? Three hypotheses are tested: sports fixation, social expectations, and counterstereotypic identity. Data are analyzed from a racially diverse sample of 779 low-income, urban high school students, both high and marginal academic achievers. Measures of interest in this study were general and specific sports participation, athletic identity, Beliefs About Intelligence (Dweck, 1999), beliefs about success, and educational aspirations. Results generally contradicted the sports fixation hypothesis and provided several lines of support for the counterstereotypic identity and social expectations hypotheses. Major findings included: (1) Few racial/ethnic differences in overall sports participation, with vast racial/ethnic differences with regard to participation in specific sports. (2) Distinction between athletic social identity and salience of sports participation. (3) Adoption of counterstereotypic coping strategies by high-achieving Black students. Other findings and implications are also discussed.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Developmental psychology|Educational psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Harpalani, Vinay, "Racial stereotypes and achievement -linked identity formation during adolescence: An investigation of athletic investment and academic resilience" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179744.