Identity bifurcation in response to stereotype threat: Women and mathematics

This paper reported three studies exploring women's bifurcation of feminine identity -- disidentification with aspects of one's social identity linked with disparagement in a domain -- in response to stereotype threat experienced in mathematics. Bifurcation was theorized as a mechanism by which women might resolve the tension between their gender identity and their identification with a given domain when poor performance may be expected based on gender. Results confirmed that women alter their self-descriptions in response to stereotype threat. Experiment 1 was a correlational study demonstrating that when women had completed a large number of quantitative courses they were less likely to describe themselves with gender stereotypes seen as problematic or incongruent for women in mathematics (e.g., flirtatious, emotional). Endorsement of gender stereotypes seen as less relevant to mathematics (e.g., sensitive, empathetic) were not affected by math experience, as was endorsement of male self-descriptions. Experiments 2 and 3 involved women identified as high or low in math either 1) reading an article agreeing with gender stereotypes in mathematical ability and completing a personality survey (stereotype threat condition), 2) reading a story about aging and completing the survey (control condition, Study 2), 3) or simply completing the survey (control condition, Experiment 3). In both studies, women who identified with math were less likely to use math-relevant gender stereotypes to describe themselves than did women not under stereotype threat or compared with women not identified with math. These studies show that women who experience stereotype threat may emphasize stereotypical traits that pose less of an obstacle for success compared with traits that are seen as incompatible with success in the domain in question.

Pronin, E., Steele, C., & Ross, L. (2004). Identity bifurcation in response to stereotype threat: Women and mathematics.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 152-168.

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