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Hostile environments, stereotype threat, and math performance among undergraduate women

This study examined the impact of exposure to derogatory cartoons about women's abilities in math on performance. Female undergraduates entered a laboratory in which, in one condition, there hung a cartoon depicting a woman struggling to answer an easy math problem and a man easily solving a difficult math problem (stereotype threat for women). In the other condition, there was no derogatory cartoon on the wall (control). Students were instructed that they would complete a difficult math test after being told that either "males and females do equally well on this test", or nothing about gender differences on the exam. Most women in the stereotype threat condition later reported noticing the cartoon, and those that did reported feeling some emotional reaction. Despite these reported reactions, most women did not believe that seeing the cartoon affected their math performance, however it was affected in an unexpected fashion. In the condition in which women were exposed to the derogatory cartoon, women who were told nothing about gender differences on the test did better than women told that men and women perform equally. In contrast, women in the control condition exhibited a pattern consistent with classic stereotype threat effects, with women performing marginally better when assured of no gender differences. These results suggest that exposing women to gender-consistent stereotypes does not always undermine performance. In this study women seemed to react in opposition to the message (cartoon), increasing motivation and performance on the task.

Oswald, D. L., & Harvey, R. D. (2000-2001). Hostile environments, stereotype threat, and math performance among undergraduate women. Current Psychology: Developmental, Learning, Personality, Social, 19, 338-356.
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