Variations of gender-math stereotype content affect women's vulnerability to stereotype threat

This experiment examined whether highlighting different aspects of a stereotype might affect the consequences of stereotype activation. Specifically, it was speculated that stereotype threat regarding women's math performance might rest on the implication that women differ from men in their inherent ability in math rather than their effort. To see whether highlighting different aspects of a gender stereotype would influence performance, female undergraduates completed a difficult math test under one of three conditions. In contrast to one set of students who proceeded immediately to the test (control), students in the other two conditions read a supposed "scientific article" about the basis of gender differences in math performance. One article suggested that men outperform women because of innate, genetic differences (ability stereotype threat) but the other article suggested that innate ability differences had been refuted and that differences actually reflected men's increased effort and motivation (effort stereotype threat). Although students in the effort threat condition attempted fewer items, they answered a greater percentage of test items correctly compared with the control and ability threat conditions. Students in the control and ability threat conditions performed equally poorly, suggesting that ability is brought into question by math-gender stereotypes even when it is not explicitly mentioned. These results also suggest that the impact of gender stereotypes on math performance can be reduced if differences in effort rather than ability are emphasized as explanations for performance differences.

Thoman, D. B., White, P. H., Yamawaki, N., & Koishi, H. (2008). Variations of gender-math stereotype content affect women's vulnerability to stereotype threat. Sex Roles, 58, 702-712.

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