Gender, stereotype threat and anxiety: Psychophysiological and cognitive evidence
This experiment assessed whether stereotype threat can produce physiological arousal and cognitive disruptions that might differentially affect male and female performance in math. Male and female undergraduates were told that they would complete a difficult math test after being told that either "girls score lower in math tests than boys" (stereotype threat for women), or that "there are many cases where girls score as well or better than boys...these tests have never shown gender differences" (control). While students completed the math test, measures of heart rate, skin conductance, and skin surface temperature were recorded, as well as time spent on each math item. Results showed that men outperformed women in both conditions. However, only women in the stereotype threat condition took longer to answer each item, suggesting a higher degree of cognitive disruption. Moreover, only women in the stereotype threat condition exhibited greater skin conductance and decreased skin temperature over the course of the study, both of which suggest anxiety and autonomic arousal. These data suggest that increased physiological arousal might cause or coincide with cognitive disruptions under stereotype threat.