Stereotype Threat Affects Women in High-Level Math Courses

In a field study in the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, women at the high end of math ability outperform their male counterparts on tests when the test is described as free of gender differences.
The women performed as well as their male counterparts under normal testing conditions.

Considerable research over the past decade has shown that women’s performances on math tests are compromised by stereotypes. In over 200 published experiments, females as young as first graders and as old as 22 have been found to perform worse on math tests whenever the testing environment cues them to think about their gender, a phenomenon named “stereotype threat” by the psychologists Claude Steele and Aronson in the mid 1990s.

“This research has always carried the positive message that stereotype threat could be overcome-and women’s test performance boosted-by small changes in the way tests were presented,” says Aronson, a professor of psychology at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “But critics of this research frequently tried to trivialize these findings by claiming that they were merely laboratory studies that said little about performance in the ‘real world,’ or that we weren’t talking about highly proficient mathematicians, who were immune to stereotypes. These findings should make the critics think again.”

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Reporters interested in reviewing a copy of the research paper
can contact Tim Farrell in NYU’s Office of Public Affairs by phone at 212.998.6797 or email at tim.farrell@nyu.edu.

Catherine Good
can be reached at Catherine_Good@baruch.cuny.edu. Ann McGillicuddy DeLisi, the journal’s editor, can be reached for comments at mcgillia@lafayette.edu

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