Stereotype threat in the marketplace: Consumer anxiety and purchase intentions

Three experiments examined stereotype threat in consumer behavior. Experiment 1 involved undergraduates (N = 134; 77 women, 57 men) where were exposed to one of two advertisements that had supposedly been developed by a financial firm that assists people in making investment decisions. One version of the ad displayed math cues (e.g., mathematical equations and symbols) in the background (stereotype threat for women) whereas the other ad had no background elements (control). In addition, the gender of the advisors portrayed in the ad was manipulated by presenting pictures of either six men or six women. After viewing one of the ads, participants indicated their intentions to purchase services from the firm depicted in the ad. Results showed that women were least likely to indicate a willingness to purchase services when the ad displayed math cues and the advisors depicted were all men. Mens intentions were unaffected by both variables. These results suggest that women who were reminded of their stereotypical low mathematical ability (as indicated by the embedded symbols) were particularly disinterested in purchasing services from an out-group service provider. Experiment 2 involved undergraduate students (N = 113; 58 women, 55 men) who were asked to evaluate a local automotive repair service. Half participants were were asked to indicate their gender before completing questionnaires (stereotype threat for women), whereas the other half of participants provided this information at the end of the experiment (control). In addition, participants saw an ad featuring either a male or female cartoon technician. Womens, but not mens, purchase intentions toward a male technician were lower but only when their own gender had been made salient. Moreover, examination of auxiliary measures suggested that anxiety largely accounted for the results. Under stereotype threat, anxiety predicted womens avoidance of out-group service providers. Experiment 3 focused on female undergraduate students (N = 91) who were first asked to indicate their gender and then to imagine that they needed to purchase a car and were visiting a dealership. The name of the salesperson was varied to manipulate gender (John Anderson vs. Joan Anderson). In addition, to test the possibility that the anxiety produced by stereotype threat in marketplace contexts might be reduced by the presence of a pleasant scent (specifically vanilla, a scent commonly used in marketing contexts with ample experimental evidence indicating its soothing effects), half of the participants received scented and half received unscented questionnaires. Results showed that women had a lower intent to purchase a car from a man then a woman, but only when their questionnaires were unscented. When responding on scented questionnaires, purchase intentions did not depend upon the gender of the salesperson. The pleasant scent appeared to eliminate the effects of stereotype threat in consumer behavior. In sum, these results attest to the role of stereotype threat in consumer behavior and means for attenuating that influence.

Lee, K., Kim, H., & Vohs, K.D. (2011). Stereotype threat in the marketplace: Consumer anxiety and purchase intentions. Journal of Consumer Research, 38, 343-357.