Interaction, stereotypes and performance: Evidence from South Africa

We exploit random assignment of roommates in a large South African University to investigate whether interaction with a person of a different race affects stereotypes, attitudes and academic performance. Different from existing studies that rely on survey-based measures of prejudice, we rely on Implicit Association Tests (IATs). We find that living with a roommate of a different race reduces white students’ negative stereotypes towards blacks and increases inter-racial friendships. Interaction also affects academic outcomes: blacks who share the room with a non-black student improve their GPA, pass more exams and have lower dropout rates. This positive effect on performance is not driven by the ability of the roommate and is stronger the lower the degree of prejudice of the roommate, suggesting a complementarity between stereotype reduction and performance gains.

Written with joint with Justine Burns (University of Cape Town) and Lucia Corno (Catholic University of Milan)