Motivated cultural worldview adherence and culturally loaded test performance

Mark J. Landau, Jeff Greenberg, Zachary K. Rothschild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Academic tests and their conditions of administration are culturally loaded when they make salient culturally specific knowledge structures in addition to measuring the intended cognitive ability. Cultural loading demonstrably influences test performance, but why? Drawing on converging perspectives on the psychological function of culture, this article proposes that one factor is the individual's internal motivation to affirm and uphold the cultural worldview. This possibility is tested within the framework of terror management theory, which claims that cultural worldview adherence defends against mortality-related concerns. It is hypothesized that making mortality salient would (a) improve performance on standardized test items when, incidental to the problem structure, the correct answers affirm prevailing cultural stereotypes and (b) impair test performance when excelling violates stereotypic expectancies for one's group. Two studies provide support for these hypotheses. Implications for test validity are briefly discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-453
Number of pages12
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Cultural bias
  • Motivation
  • Standardized testing
  • Stereotype threat
  • Terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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