Retraining attitudes and stereotypes to affect motivation and cognitive capacity under stereotype threat

This research investigated whether changing attitudes towards mathematics can alter the experience and consequences of stereotype threat. Specifically, four studies assessed if training to create counter-stereotypical associations between gender and domain (i.e., women are good at math) might undermine the disruption and reduction of cognitive capacity that typically arises under stereotype threat. Study 1 involved female undergraduates (N = 58) who completed a training task that had been designed to elicit positive or negative responses to math through the assignment of responses to key stimuli (specifically, by assigning I like or I dont like and Math to the same response key in a timed task, respectively). The following day, these participants then completed a math motivation task, a working memory measure, and a math strategy test. Students who had been trained to have more positive attitudes towards math showed a greater interest in solving math compared with verbal problems. Study 2 involved male and female students (N = 143) who completed the same training task as in Study 1 one day before completing a math task. In addition, half of the participants who completed positive attitude training were placed under stereotype threat by being told that the test was diagnostic of peoples natural abilities, having them sit specifically so they could see another male participant, and finally being asked to indicate their gender on a demographic questionnaire. Findings showed that women who were trained to have a positive math attitude and thought they were taking a diagnostic math test (threat condition) spent more time on math problems on the effort task than men or women not under threat. Study 3 focused on undergraduate women (N = 120) who completed two different tasks: the attitude training task from Study 1 (pairing I like vs. I dont like with math) and a stereotype belief training task (pairing Women are good at vs. Men are good at with math). Women trained to like math spent more time on math problems, but only if their training condition reinforced the stereotype. Women trained to associate women with being good at math also had higher working memory scores than those trained to associate men with being good at math. Study 4 involved female students (N = 177) who underwent the stereotype belief training task used in Study 3. The next day participants were assigned to a stereotype threat versus control condition using a 2 (stereotype training: stereotype reinforcement, counterstereotype retraining) by 2 (task description: diagnostic math test, problem-solving task) design involving procedures similar to those used in Studies 1-3. Findings from Study 4 suggested that women who received counterstereotype retraining demonstrated greater working memory capacity when taking the diagnostic math test than women in the stereotype retraining condition. Additionally, women who thought they were taking a diagnostic math test did better on that test when they were retrained with the counterstereotype associations (women are good at math). These findings support the notion that counterstereotype retraining can increase womens performance under stereotype threat conditions by increasing their working memory capacity.

Forbes, C. E., & Schmader, T. (2010). Retraining attitudes and stereotypes to affect motivation and cognitive capacity under stereotype threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 740-754.

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