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Combating stereotype threat: The effect of self-affirmation on women's intellectual performance

Two studies examined the consequences of self-affirmation on women operating under stereotype threat. In Experiment 1, male and female undergraduates who had a history of strong math performance completed a challenging math test. Before doing so, students were told that the test was being administered to give the researchers a sense of "people's impressions of the problems" (control) or that the test measured "math and reasoning abilities" (stereotype threat for women). An additional condition allowed some women who had been exposed to stereotype threat to affirm an important characteristic they possessed by writing about a time that it had been important to them. Men's math performance was not affected by the stereotype threat manipulation, but women's performance was worse in the stereotype threat condition compared with the control condition. However, women who had self-affirmed under stereotype threat performed as well as women in the control condition. In Experiment 2, male and female undergraduates were asked to complete a task involving spatial rotation after informing them that stereotypes suggest that women "have more trouble with spatial rotation tasks." Half the students were given a self-affirmation task. Performance of men on the task was unaffected by the self-affirmation manipulation, however women performed more poorly than men without affirmation, but performed equally well after they were allowed to self-affirm. These findings show that self-affirmation can reduce the debilitating effects that typically arise from stereotype threat.

Martens, A., Johns, M., Greenberg, J., & Schimel, J. (2006). Combating stereotype threat: The effect of self-affirmation on women's intellectual performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 236-243.
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