“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.
If Women Assume Fake Names, They Do Better on Math Tests
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.
Teacher bias may help discourage girls from math, study finds
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.
Are Women Worse at Math? It’s Time to Stop Asking
…. 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.
Ladies of Science – Responding to “The Stereotype Threat”
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.]
Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance