Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Heather M. Kleider

Second Advisor

Sarah Brosnan

Third Advisor

Gwen Frishkoff

Fourth Advisor

David Washburn

Abstract

I explored the influence of stereotypes on performance in cognitive tasks as a function of individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) in a multi-part study. First, I established that low and high WMC persons maintain equivalent knowledge of common racial stereotypes. Next, I tested whether stereotype-based responses in cognitive tasks that require controlled processing are influenced by individual differences in WMC. Given that stereotypical associations are automatic and cognitively efficient, I predicted that without sufficient resources to suppress these associations, persons with low relative to high WMC will be more susceptible to the influence of stereotype-consistent errors on tasks which have been demonstrated to induce performance differences in low and high WMC persons (Unsworth & Engle, 2007). Engaging WMC is not required in all cognitive tasks; thus, low and high WMC persons were not expected to perform differently on tasks that rely on more automatic processes.

Results provided general support for predictions as persons with more inherently limited cognitive resources committed a higher number of stereotype-consistent errors when performing a maintenance task and accurately recalled fewer stereotype-consistent words when performing a retrieval task. However, persons completing inhibition and familiarity tasks, which are methodologically similar to the maintenance and retrieval tasks but involve less controlled cognitive processes, performed similarly regardless of WMC.

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