Gender and mathematics: Attitudes and stereotype threat susceptibility in Italian children
Two experiments assessed the development of attitudes about mathematics in children, and their vulnerability to stereotype threat. In Experiment 1, Italian boys and girls in grades 2-5 (approximately 6-11 years of age) answered questions designed to assess their beliefs and opinions about mathematics. Approximately two weeks later, the children completed a math test after reading vignettes about either 9 famous male mathematicians and 1 famous female mathematician (stereotype threat for girls), or 10 neutral stimuli (control). Analysis of attitudes towards math showed that boys and girls showed similar levels of self-confidence in second and third grade, but that boys showed higher self-confidence than girls in both fourth and fifth grade. In terms of stereotype endorsement, boys and girls had different beliefs at different ages. The youngest boys rated boys and girls as equally skilled in math, but at every other age, rated boys as better than girls in math. The youngest girls believed girls to be better in math than boys, but as their age increased, they were more likely to agree with the stereotype that boys are better than girls in mathematics. In terms of math performance, there were no effects of condition for children in grades 2-4. In grade 5, however, boys performed better than girls, and girls performed somewhat worse in the stereotype threat condition than in the control condition. In Experiment 2, boys and girls from grades 3 (average age = 8.2), 5 (10.2), and 8 (13.0) completed procedures very similar to the ones used in Experiment 1. Self-confidence in math was higher for boys than girls in the third grade, but not significantly different in grades five or eight. Regarding stereotype endorsement, third grade and fifth grade boys thought that boys were better than girls in math, but girls showed no difference in their estimates. There were no differences between boys and girls estimates in eighth grade. Analysis of math performance showed that girls performed as well as boys except in eighth grade, when girls in the stereotype threat condition performed worse than girls in the control condition. These results show that girls evaluate themselves less confidently in mathematics despite exhibiting equal performance, and that boys endorse gender stereotypes in math to a greater degree than girls. Girls show a progressive shift from ingroup favoritism to more stereotypical beliefs. Performance deficits under stereotype threat emerged only in the oldest groups in each study, although the age of those two groups differed.