"My students' assistance in my research runs the gamut -- everything from library research to recruiting participants for studies to actually conducting the studies and entering data. They are an incredible resource and great fun to work with."
"The overarching subject of my research," says Joshua Aronson, "is all of the psychological reasons that underlie the gap between minorities and whites in terms of academic achievement and enjoyment of school and schooling."
Aronson traces his interest in the subject to his childhood, during the time of desegregation. "I had friends who were black and Latino who were tremendously smart, but once they got into the class they were not so smart. I remember being puzzled by that and wondering why it happened."
These personal experiences returned to Aronson when, after receiving a PhD from Princeton, he did post-doctoral work at Stanford University with Professor Claude Steele. In 1995 Steele and Aronson published their landmark laboratory studies on "stereotype threat," a performance-inhibiting phenomenon that occurs when students confront the negative expectations of the particular stereotypes assigned their race. The studies show that if you could minimize stereotype threat in testing situations, you could get rid of a big portion of the gap between blacks and whites on standardized tests.
Since then, Aronson has continued his laboratory research, but has also conducted intervention work in the schools, both examining the psychological underpinnings of the performance gap and developing practical methods for reducing it. All of this will be fodder for a yet untitled guidebook, which will offer practical suggestions to educators for reducing the black/white achievement gap.
Aronson is also starting to assemble a nationwide coalition of experts concerned with this achievement gap who will eventually create a national task force to focus their efforts and share research. "That," says Aronson, "is the dream."
Aronson's research has already had far-reaching influence. It has been cited extensively in two Supreme Court cases, and is frequently referred to by psychologists, educators, and social scientists concerned with educational equality. "I'm very gratified by the impact the work has had," says Aronson, who acknowledges the research participation of his students as a tremendous boon. "Their assistance in my research runs the gamut -- everything from library research to recruiting participants for studies to actually conducting the studies and entering data. They are an incredible resource and great fun to work with. Also, it's such a wonderful thing to walk into a classroom - particularly if your work is about prejudice and stereotyping -- and see the full gamut of diversity in front of you. I love the students at NYU -- they're the most interesting I've ever encountered."
As for his hopes for the department, Aronson is aiming high. "I want to see our program in applied psychology become the most exciting undergraduate major in the country. Applied psychology is inherently so altruistic: you get to learn a science that is directly about making people's lives better. You get to use your heart and your mind because you're essentially using scientific skills to improve the world."