Stereotype threat, identity salience, and spatial reasoning

This experiment assessed how highlighting different social identities can moderate vulnerability to stereotype threat. Male and female undergraduates completed the the Vandenberg Mental Rotation Test (VMRT), a standard test of visualspatial ability. Before taking the test, students completed questionnaires designed to highlight different aspects of their social identities that should differentially be associated with stereotypical gender differences in spatial abilities. One questionnaire highlighted gender identity, which contained items that made reference to students' sex or gender (stereotype threat for women), a second questionnaire highlighted participants' status as students at a private school, and a third questionnaire made salient students' status as residents of the Northeast. The effects of these different highlighted identities differed for males and females. For females, performance was worst when gender was made salient and best when college identity was highlighted. For men, their performance was best when their gender was highlighted and worst when their Northeast citizen identity was made salient. Consistent with other studies on stereotype threat, the difference in performance between males and females was greatest when gender was made salient. These results show that highlighting social identities with differing implications for spatial ability can moderate performance on spatial tasks.

McGlone, M. S., & Aronson, J. (2006). Stereotype threat, identity salience, and spatial reasoning. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27, 486-493.

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