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Female role models: Protecting women's math test performance

This paper reported three experiments examining the attenuation of stereotype threat when women are provided with role models who suggest competence. Experiment 1 involved highly math-identified male and female students who were given a difficult, diagnostic math test by one of three male or female experimenters. The math competence of the experimenter was established by indicating that the experimenter had developed the test and would be providing feedback on the students performance. Women performed as well as men when the test was administered by a woman, but they performed more poorly (and showed lower state self-esteem) when the test had been administered by a man. In Experiment 2, all participants were led to believe that they would interact with a female experimenter, but there was no experimenter physically present during testing. In addition, the description of the experimenter was varied to suggest either high or low competence in math. Women performed more poorly with a low-competence experimenter, but men actually performed better when they thought the experimenter was low in competence. When the experimenter was supposedly high in competence, men and women showed equivalent performance. In Experiment 3, female students were led to believe that they would interact with either a high- or low-competence female experimenter. Women in the high-competence experimenter condition performed better on the test, had elevated appraisals of their own math ability, and showed higher levels of state self esteem compared with women in the low-competence experimenter condition. These studies show that providing a role model who challenges stereotypic assumptions about mathematical ability can eliminate stereotype threat effects in that domain.

Marx, D. M., & Roman, J. S. (2002). Female role models: Protecting women's math test performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1183-1193.
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