Exposure to scientific theories affects women's math performance

This paper reports two studies examining the impact of attributions for gender differences in math on math performance. In Experiment 1, men and women completed a math test, a reading comprehension test, and then a second math test. The content of the reading comprehension essay served as the experimental manipulation. Two essays acknowledged gender differences in math performance but they attributed those differences either to genetic or experiential causes. A third essay denied gender differences in mathematics, and a fourth essay focused on gender but did not discuss performance in math. Performance on the math test was poorer for women who read intervening essays that either attributed math differences to genetic factors, or that made gender salient without mentioning math performance, compared with the essays emphasizing no gender differences or that attributed differences to experience. Experiment 2 replicated these effects with a different design. These results suggest that invoking a genetic or biological basis for stereotypes undermines performance, whereas attributing differences to experience might ameliorate stereotype threat effects.

Dar-Nimrod, I., & Heine, S. J. (2006). Exposure to scientific theories affects women's math performance. Science, 314, 435.

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