Interacting with sexist men triggers social identity threat among female engineers
This article investigated in five studies how an environment that devalues womens abilities can trigger stereotype threat. Researchers observed male engineering students (N = 28) who scored high on a subtle measure of sexism during a structured, work-related interaction with a female confederate. As predicted, men who scored high on the sexism measure acted in a more dominant and sexually interested way toward the women students. In a second study, men (N = 32) and women (N = 323) engineering majors engaged in a discussion with an opposite-sex participant and then completed a test of engineering knowledge. The performance of men on the test was unaffected by the sexism of their female discussion partners. However, the degree that male partners demonstrated sexist beliefs during the interaction, the worse the test performance of female engineers. Study 3 replicated these effects using an experimental design in which a male confederate acted either in a sexist or non-sexist manner when interacting with a female engineering student (N = 17). Study 4 involved female undergraduate majors in STEM disciplines (N = 25) interacting with a sexist or egalitarian male confederate. Performance on a subsequent math test was negatively affected by the males sexism, but performance on an English test (a discipline in which women are not stereotyped to underperform) was not. Study 5, again with female STEM majors (N = 26), examined the accessibility of stereotype-related words (e.g., illogical, irrational, confused) after interacting with a sexist or egalitarian partner. Participants were slower to recognize stereotypical words in conditions in which they had interacted with a sexist confederate, suggesting that women in these conditions were attempting to suppress negative stereotypes about their gender. Collectively, these studies highlight the adverse effects of mens sexist attitudes and behavior toward women in domains in which there exist negative gender stereotypes.