“Stereotype Threat” is someone mentioned only briefly in my past related post, “Are Schools or Pedagogical Systems Designed to Favor Girls Over Boys? No, Not By and Large“.
I wanted to use this post to include links to studies and articles about this topic.
Sexism, gender bias, and gender stereotypes – including Stereotype Threat – can and do play a role in why girls and women may under-perform in certain subjects, shy away from others, and influence which careers they enter.
Assuming a false name helped women perform better on math tests
There’s a long standing myth that men are better at math than women. Women know this myth, and if you remind them of it before a test, they tend to do worse than they would have otherwsie.
This is called “stereotype threat,” and it happens in the real world all the time.
One team of researchers was interested in whether or not they could reverse this drop in performance by having women assume fake identities.
What they found was that assuming a false name did help women perform better.
Here’s what happened when the researchers gave women fake names. Women who took the test under a false name—male or female—performed significantly better than women who took the test with their own name at the top. Men were completely unaffected by the name on the top of their paper.
by Linda Carroll / Mar.10.2015
Despite all the talk about encouraging girls in math and science, many teachers still harbor unconscious biases that dissuade girls from going into these fields, a new study suggests.
Israeli researchers found a gender bias in math grades given to girls and boys at the elementary school level, according to the report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Our results suggest that teachers themselves are part of the problem,” said the study’s lead author, Edith Sand, an economist at the Bank of Israel and an instructor at the Tel-Aviv University’s Berglas School of Economics. “They are discouraging girls and encouraging boys to get to a higher level of math and science. So there’s a gender gap in the teachers’ perceptions of their students.”
Sand discovered the gender bias by comparing the results of tests scored by teachers who knew the children and their names, to those graded by outside scorers who weren’t told anything about the identity of the test takers.
What she saw was striking. When teachers knew the children’s names and identities, they graded the girls lower in math than the outside grader, while scoring the boys higher. As a test, the researchers checked to see if the same kind of bias was occurring in other school subjects—it wasn’t.
To see if there was any long term fallout from the biased grading, the researchers followed the children all the way through high school. They found that girls who had been downgraded in elementary school were less likely to sign up for advanced math and science courses in high school.
The researchers suspect that the bias is unconscious. “I am sure they are completely unaware of it,” Sand said.
This isn’t the first study to show that girls’ interest in math tends to drop off as they get older, but it may well be the first showing that teacher bias could be part of the problem, said Patrick Tolan, a professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and director of Youth-Nex, the UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development.
…. In my case, I had been subconsciously primed with words related to femininity (like pink, lipstick, and doll) [during the psychological test]. Some subjects in the study were primed with neutral words instead.
In studies like these, as in the calculus one, women who see feminine words subsequently do worse on the math test than those who don’t.
Researchers have even found that women taking math tests under stereotype threat show activity in regions of the brain associated with the processing of negative social information — we get anxious.
…Is it true? Are women innately worse at math?
A lot of researchers have tried to definitively answer this question, generating huge amounts of controversy in the meantime. The problem is that when it comes to women and men’s performance in math, there are no control groups.
Cultural stereotypes about gender and mathematical ability are pervasive and it’s extremely difficult to separate performance gaps based on these stereotypes from performance gaps based on ‘innate’ talent.
…Notably, one widely documented study on stereotype threat found that when Asian-American women were reminded of their Asian identities their math performance improved, while reminders of their femininity had the opposite effect.
The upshot of all this is that even if there are innate mathematical abilities, their significance pales in comparison to the effects that culture has on mathematical performance.
And certainly, given the weight of evidence for stereotyping effects, innate mathematical differences cannot be used, as some do, to justify gender gaps in technical fields. It’s time to stop obsessively trying to find differences between men and women and to focus that energy on breaking down the cultural norms that keep girls out of math.
While a lot has been done to combat the explicit stereotyping of women in STEM, implicit biases persist, even in individuals who actively reject stereotypes.
Mahzarin Banaji, a professor of social ethics at Harvard University, has developed a virtual laboratory for exploring unconscious beliefs about gender and science stereotypes.
Nearly half a million people from around the world have taken the test over the course of the past 16 years and nearly 70 percent readily associate “male” with science and “female” with arts. [Editor’s note: Banaji’s test is available online. Find out about your own implicit biases here.]
Here’s another reason to read science stories to your daughter at bedtime. Elementary school teachers may unintentionally discourage girls from pursuing math and sciences later in life, new research suggests.
According to a study conducted at Tel Aviv University and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, these unconscious biases could help explain why so few girls and women ultimately choose classes and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
However unintended these biases may be, they help to shape women’s career paths for years to come, said Edith Sand, an economist at the Bank of Israel and economics professor at Tel Aviv University.
“It isn’t an issue of discrimination but of unconscious discouragement,” Sand said in a released statement. “This discouragement, however, has implications. The track to computer science and engineering fields, which report some of the highest salaries, tapers off in elementary school.”
Researchers administered two tests to three groups of students in Israel who they tracked from the sixth grade through high school.
One test was graded without student names, and the other was scored by someone who knew the students.
Girls whose tests were objectively graded received better scores than boys, but the opposite was true in the tests submitted to teachers who knew the students, the study found.
Girls as young as 6 years old are likely to believestereotypes about women’s intelligence. These stereotypes, according to a study published in the journal Science, harm girls by undermining their performance in pursuits such as math.
Although sex and gender differences are the source of much scientific debate, no research conclusively proves that one sex is more intelligent. Recent studies have undermined the notion of fixed sex-based differences in personality and cognition. One new study found no substantive differences between male and female amygdalae—a brain region associated with memory and emotion.
…Taken together, the various trials suggest children begin to accept gender stereotypes about women’sintelligence between the ages of 5 and 7. These stereotypes affect their assessments of their own intelligence, which then affects their decisions on activities they are willing to try.
HOW STEREOTYPE THREAT CAN THWART SUCCESS
The study points to previous research suggesting gender stereotypes can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Stereotype threat, for example, is a predicament people may find themselves in when they feel they are at risk of conforming to a widely held stereotype about their group.
Several studies have found when women and girls are reminded of their gender, or of gendered stereotypes about women and math, they perform worse on math tests than they otherwise would.
If girls accept gender stereotypes at a young age, these stereotypes are likely to affect their academic performance, their interests, and their career choices. The study’s authors suggest consistently exposing young girls to successes and contributions made by influential women may be a way to help girls recognize their full potential.
Walk into any tech company or university math department, and you’ll likely see a gender disparity: Fewer women than men seem to go into fields involving science, engineering, technology and mathematics.
…It isn’t just that fewer women choose to go into these fields.
Even when they go into these fields and are successful, women are more likely than men to quit.
“They tend to drop out at higher rates than their male peers,” said Toni Schmader, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia. “As women enter into careers, the levels of advancement aren’t as steep for women as for men.
…Steele and other psychologists said a psychological phenomenon could be influencing the performance of students.
When there’s a stereotype in the air and people are worried they might confirm the stereotype by performing poorly, their fears can inadvertently make the stereotype become self-fulfilling.
Steele and his colleagues found that when women were reminded — even subtly — of the stereotype that men were better than women at math, the performance of women in math tests measurably declined.
Since the reduction in performance came about because women were threatened by the stereotype, the psychologists called the phenomenon “stereotype threat.”
Stereotype threat isn’t limited to women or ethnic minorities, Steele wrote elsewhere. “Everyone experiences stereotype threat…..
…Over the years, experiments have shown that stereotype threat affects performance in a wide variety of domains.
“For a female scientist, particularly talking to a male colleague, if she thinks it’s possible he might hold this stereotype, a piece of her mind is spent monitoring the conversation and monitoring what it is she is saying, and wondering whether or not she is saying the right thing, and wondering whether or not she is sounding competent, and wondering whether or not she is confirming the stereotype,” Schmader said.
All this worrying is distracting. It uses up brainpower. The worst part?
“By merely worrying about that more, one ends up sounding more incompetent,” Schmader said.
Mehl and Schmader think that when female scientists talk to male colleagues about research, it brings the stereotype about men, women and science to the surface.
When the female scientists talked to men about leisure activities, it didn’t activate the stereotype. It wasn’t that women liked to talk only about their weekends and personal lives.
When the women talked to other women about science, the stereotype wasn’t activated. It was the combination — women talking to men, and women and men talking about science, that activated the stereotype threat…..
Now, most scientists say they don’t believe the stereotype about women and science, and argue that it won’t affect them. But the psychological studies suggest people are affected by stereotype threat regardless of whether they believe the stereotype.
….The Wrong Conclusion
Mehl and Schmader said the stereotype threat research does not imply that the gender disparity in science and math fields is all “in women’s heads.”
The problem isn’t with women, Mehl said. The problem is with the stereotype.
The study suggests the gender disparity in science and technology may be, at least in part, the result of a vicious cycle.
When women look at tech companies and math departments, they see few women. This activates the stereotype that women aren’t good at math. The stereotype, Toni Schmader said, makes it harder for women to enter those fields. To stay. To thrive.
“If people like me aren’t represented in this field, then it makes me feel like it’s a bad fit, like I don’t belong here,” she said.
…. Stereotype threat is significant because once it’s invoked it can impact a woman’s performance on all of the math questions, not just the questions that mention sex or gender.
Here’s how it works.
Stereotypes, like those that suggest girls aren’t good at math, raise self-doubts and increase anxiety during high-pressure exams, and result in worse scores for women on math tests.
Remind the stereotyped group of the stereotypes, and you can increase their anxiety making their test scores worse.
In this case, any reminder that women don’t perform as well as men at math can alter women’s performance on the whole math portion of the test.
Numerous studies have found that reminding people of stereotypes prior to taking the test can wreak havoc with their scores.
One of my favorite of these studies shows how stereotype threat can account for the entire gender difference in the exam scores. The researchers recruited a group high-performing male and female math students as participants.
Half of the participants were told that there were gender differences on the test (reminding them of the stereotype), and that men generally received higher scores than women.
The other half were told that no gender differences were found in test results.
When the participants were told there were no gender differences in the test results, the women performed equally as well as the men.
However, on the exact same test, when participants were told that men tended to perform better, the women performed worse than the men.
Stereotype threat accounted for all of the gender differences in performance on the math test in the study. And the differences aren’t small. Stereotype threat has been shown to account for about 15 points on a 100-point test.
In other words, women who are equally prepared score 15% lower than the men.
Others estimate that stereotype threat accounts for 30 points on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) quantitative exam which is scored on a 200-800 scale. Not only that, there is some evidence of stereotype boost.
That is, reminding men of these stereotypes (that men are superior at math), can actually improve their performance on the test – thus widening the gap even further.
It turns out pretty much any reminder of stereotypes can trigger stereotype threat. That’s why the two questions on the SAT exam are so disturbing. They remind women of the stereotypes that they are not as good at math and, perhaps worse, that their place is in the kitchen! This type of reminder could take a significant toll on the women’s math score.
Stereotype threat helps explain why girls have outperformed boys in school, but still come up short on the SAT.
Sadly, when the New York Times asked the College Board about the negative stereotypes, the College Board couldn’t see it. They claimed that the newly revamped SAT had been even more thoroughly vetted for fairness and reviewed by experts. Unfortunately, it seems the experts don’t know about stereotype threat.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A new study from Indiana University suggests that gender stereotypes about women’s ability in mathematics negatively impact their performance.
And in a significant twist, both men and women wrongly believe those stereotypes will not undermine women’s math performance — but instead motivate them to perform better.
… Boucher found that expectations did not match reality: While both sexes expected female test-takers to experience greater anxiety and pressure to perform under the influence of negative gender stereotypes, both male and female observers expected women to successfully overcome these roadblocks.
Observers expected stereotypes to increase women’s anxiety, but they did not anticipate that the anxiety would undermine performance.
Moreover, this misperception occurred in both men and women. Being a woman did not confer any special insight into women’s experiences of stereotype threat; female observers were almost equally likely to overestimate the performance of other women under stereotype threat.
Study participants reported they thought the negative stereotypes would function as a “motivating challenge,” even though women who actually performed the math problems didn’t report this level of motivation when asked about their performance.
…The results remained true controlling for how strongly participants felt negative attitudes could affect a person’s performance or how concerned they were personally about how others would judge their responses.
The consequences of these misperceptions are significant, Boucher said. The disconnect between reality and perception in these scenarios could translate to reduced support for programs and policies that mitigate the impact of negative gender stereotypes since people do not think they affect real-world performance.
There is no shortage of stereotypes about the intellectual abilities of social groups, and by a young age, we know them very well.
By middle childhood, most American children are familiar with stereotypes portraying boys as better at math than girls, black people as less intelligent than white people, Asians as better at math than anyone else, and so on.
Not everyone believes the stereotypes, but most children and adults are aware of them. Regardless of whether we come to hold these stereotypes as strong convictions or merely as familiar-but-distrusted notions, knowledge of their content alone can bias our perceptions of stereotyped groups.
Such bias poses a serious problem for students who belong to stigmatized groups. Researchers have shown that stereotyped expectations shape social interactions and over time can result in the fulfillment of that stereotype.
For example, if a student’s social identity suggests high academic ability, interest, or potential, he or she may be treated accordingly by a teacher–receiving more attention, more challenging material, more patience–and over time, develop into the bright student the teacher initially imagined.
By the same token, negative stereotypes can have the opposite effect, leading a teacher to create a less encouraging learning environment for students from stigmatized groups.
Recent research suggests that students need never encounter actual prejudice or differential treatment to be hurt by stereotypes.
Just as mere knowledge of a stereotype can influence the thinking and behavior of teachers, it can also have a direct effect on students’ perceptions of themselves.
Students from stigmatized social groups are often bothered by the possibility that they will be viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype. As a result, they feel extra pressure not to fail, else their poor performance be perceived as evidence confirming the stereotype. This pressure may in turn impair their academic performance, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy known as stereotype threat.
High school and college females tend not to perform as well as males on standardized math tests.
Some have interpreted the performance gap as reflecting innate sex differences in mathematical ability.
Others have argued that the gap is a consequence of childhood sex-role socialization patterns in which boys receive more encouragement than girls to participate in math activities.
Neither of these accounts fares well in explaining why the performance gap emerges in high school. We contend that the gap is due in part to feelings of stereotype threat that female students may experience when they encounter difficulties in a math test.
This contention is based on our observation that the largest gender gaps occur when females are tested in situations that make their gender identity especially salient.
For example, we have found that college women (but not men) taking a math test are affected by the gender composition of the testing room: When the majority of students in the test room are men, women tend to achieve lower scores than when the majority are women.
Moreover, simply asking women to fill out a demographics question indicating their sex prior to taking the test (as all students do when they take the SAT, LSAT, GRE, etc.) can lower their test scores.
…These findings thus provide evidence that even if girls are not explicitly taught negative stereotypes, their teacher’s math anxiety is sufficient to increase their stereotypical beliefs and decrease their math performance through role-modeling mechanisms or emotion contagion processes.
On a related note:
Summary:Girls rate their math abilities lower than boys, even when there is no observable difference between the two, a new study has found.
..Perceived ability under challenge was measured using a nationally representative longitudinal study that followed 10th grade students over a six-year period until two years after high school.
A series of questions in the 10th and 12th grade surveys asked students to indicate their level of agreement with statements such as “I’m certain I can understand the most difficult material presented in math texts.”
“That’s important because those confidence levels influence the math and science courses students choose later in high school,” Perez-Felkner said. “It influences whether they choose colleges that are strong in certain science majors. It also influences the majors they intend to pursue and the majors they actually declare and continue on with in degrees and potential careers.”
These conclusions address perceived ability beliefs in a critical time where more talented young women tend to depart from male-dominated science career pathways during high school and college.
…Perez-Felkner and colleagues argue gender differences in confidence in their mathematics ability in challenging contexts has considerable longer term consequences. Gender disparities in college major choice are associated with the gender pay gap as well as an insufficiently large and diverse labor pool of scientific talent in some of the highest-growing fields in our increasingly scientific global economy.
The authors note boys are encouraged from a young age to pursue challenge — including the risk of failure — while girls tend to pursue perfection, judging themselves and being judged by more restrictive standards reinforced by media and society at large.
by JACINTA BOWLER
20 MAR 2018
…In one experiment, the researchers took 88 female Israeli university students, and when the women wrote about past situations in which they had received compliments, they actually scored slightly lower scores in a difficult maths test than those that didn’t write anything.
…In the second experiment, the team took 73 female and 75 male university students and made them take the same hard maths test after receiving – or not receiving – a compliment from a researcher of the opposite sex.
Although some of the students felt happier after the compliment, the test scores fell slightly – and this happened for both men and women.
So what does this actually mean?
…But if these weird results are replicated in further studies, it does make an interesting point about how even something as benign as a compliment can affect the way we think.
“We believe it is important to raise the awareness of the public – teachers, professors, bosses and coworkers, and so forth – to the negative effects this kind of seemingly positive situation might have,” said Kahalon.
“In our research both men’s and women’s cognitive performance was negatively affected by the appearance compliment, but as outside of the lab women are those who usually receive appearance comments, they are probably those who are mostly affected by it.”