Stereotype threat, a social psychological theory developed by Claude Steele and his colleagues, describes the fear experienced by members of a group that their performance might confirm a negative stereotype. This apprehension, as well as the added pressure to perform well, can increase anxiety and physiological arousal, trigger distracting thoughts, and reduce working memory capacity, all of which can impair performance. Even well-learned motor skills can be affected. Ironically, people who care more about their social group and performing well and have higher ability may be most vulnerable. Stereotype threat has been used to explain many important real-world problems, including why white students perform better than black students on standardized tests and why men perform better than women on math tests. Studies have shown that it even affects athletic performance.
The stereotype about the Cubs is that they are loveable losers and that they choke under pressure. Despite an impressive regular season, losing game 1 may have re-activated the stereotype for both Cubs' fans and players. Consequently, an unflattering comparison was made between the Cubs and Dodgers, a supposedly superior team. The Cubs were then at risk of confirming the negative stereotype, while the Dodgers were helped by "stereotype lift." The day after they lost game 2, the Chicago Tribune even asked the question, in an article by Paul Sullivan, "Are the Cubs choking away the NLDS?" The combination of the stereotype and a "do or die" situation, may have caused them to play "tight" and make mistakes. During game 2, each error may have increased the threat, causing even more errors. In the end, their poor performance once again confirmed the stereotype.