Strength in numbers? Women and mathematics

Two experiments investigated the roles of stereotype activation and anxiety in womens performance in mathematics under stereotype threat. In Experiment 1, female undergraduates who identified strongly with the domain of math, answered a set of math problems 1) by themselves (control), 2) in the presence of five other male students (solo condition), or 3) in a mixed-gender group (non-solo condition). Students completed word fragments designed to assess gender stereotype activation prior to answering any of the math problems. Average test performance was best in the non-solo condition and worst in the solo condition. Gender stereotypes appeared to be most accessible in the solo condition and least accessible in the control condition, but these differences were not significantly different. Moreover, stereotype accessibility was unrelated to performance. In Experiment 2, female undergraduates took the math test under solo or non-solo conditions and, prior to doing so, their performance expectations were measured. After completing the test, students were told that they would complete another task with the group members and, at that time, measures of stereotype anxiety and interest in gender-related tasks were administered. Performance anxiety was higher in the solo compared with the non-solo condition but, surprisingly, there emerged no differences in math performance or performance expectations. However, across the conditions, anxiety regarding math performance was negatively correlated with performance, and performance was negatively related to expressed interest in female-related activities. These results suggest that anxiety plays a more direct role than stereotype activation in accounting for performance deficits under stereotype threat, and that domain performance relates to the strength of group identification.

Beaton, A., Tougas, F., Rinfret, N., Huard, N., & Delisle, M. N. (2007). Strength in numbers? Women and mathematics. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 22, 291-306.

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