Stereotype Threat and the Effects on Women in Mathematical Tasks
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
GAMET, M. M. (2004). Stereotype Threat and the Effects on Women in Mathematical Tasks. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Stereotype Threat and the Effects on Women in Mathematical Tasks
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
Stereotype threat can be defined as the risk of confirming a negative stereotype about oneís group as a self-characteristic. Often, women feel stereotyped on tasks of mathematics when being compared to males. Research has shown that males do often perform better than women in areas that deal with mathematics. However, it is unknown as to whether this is a cause or effect of women avoiding classes and careers related to math. Studies have shown that alleviating such stereotypes may increase the performance of women in the area of mathematics. My study investigated whether introducing a stereotype to women would inhibit their mathematical performance compared to a group of women who were not faced with the stereotype. The experimental group included college women, which were involved in a discussion of having separate math classes for males and females due to malesí higher mathematical abilities. The control group was also college women and these females were told nothing. Both groups took a math test consisting of 10 pre-act questions. The results showed that the women, who were not introduced to the stereotype before taking the math exam, did not score significantly higher than the women who were introduced to the stereotype, as I had expected. I found that I would need a much larger sample size to possibly have a significant effect, due to so much overlap in the scores.

Stereotype threat is defined by Claude Steele as the threat of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype, or the fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype (Steele & Spencer, 1999). These threats occur in situations in which the particular stereotype is relevant. There are several studies that research the different types of stereotype threat that affect particular groups of people. When a group of people is expected to excel or perform inferior to other groups, they will often live up to such expectations. In order for a stereotype to have an effect on an individual, that individual has to be aware of the stereotype and even believe that it has some truth (Barquissau, Johns, & Schmader, 2004). A very common stereotype is the ability for men to perform better than women in areas that deal with mathematics. Research has found that males perform better than females on most tests of mathematics. This may be the cause, or perhaps the effect of women being less likely to select math classes or to pursue careers in the field of mathematics (Smith & White, 2001). The field of mathematics is highly dominated by men, and it is still unknown as to whether this is due to the fact that women do not perform as well as men in the area, or if it is simply a stereotype that steers them away. Increasing the overall self-esteem of a group of people may help alleviate stereotype threat. A study by Charles Lord and colleagues investigated whether simply reminding women of other womenís accomplishments might reduces the effects of stereotype threat. In the first experiment, women were told that women were typically better participants in psychological studies than men. These women were found to perform better on tests of mathematics than the control group. As for the second experiment, women were found to perform better on a math test when they read an article, prior to the test, about the achievements of four women in the areas of architecture, medicine, and law (Lord, McIntyre & Paulson, 2003). This suggests that when women feel confident about the overall success of all women in general, whether or not it deals with that exact test, the effects of stereotype threat can be somewhat smaller. Several studies have reported a change in womenís mathematical performance when stereotype threat is increased or decreased. One study reports that women scored lower than men on a test of mathematics when women believed the test had previously shown gender differences. When the women believed the test had previously shown cultural differences, rather than gender differences, there was no difference between the performance of males and females (Walsh, Duffy & Hickey, 1999). This would suggest that if women have no knowledge or belief of such a stereotype, they have the ability to perform as well as men on mathematical tests. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether women, who are subjected to the stereotype that men are better in mathematics, will score worse than women who are not introduced to the stereotype.


The participants were college females from the fall introductory psychology classes. My experimental group consisted of 22 females and my control group consisted of a separate group of 29 females.

All participants were given a short test of mathematics comprised of ten multiple-choice ACT practice questions obtained from the Internet ( These questions were prepared for upper high school and college level students.

For my experimental group, Dr. Huntermark introduced the stereotype by discussing the issue of having separate math classes for males and females due to the higher math abilities of males. Following this discussion, the entire class was given a mathematics test consisting of ten multiple-choice, pre-ACT questions obtained from My control group was a separate class that was not introduced to the stereotype. This class was given the same test as the experimental group. All participants were given 20 minutes to complete the test and were not able to use calculators.

An independent samples t-test revealed that the 22 females introduced to stereotype threat did not score significantly higher than the 29 women who were not (t(49)=.973, p=.335). However, these results were in the right direction with the women receiving the stereotype threat scoring lower (M=4.0), overall, than the women who did not (M=4.55). After calculating a small effect size (e.s.=.25), I found that I would need at least 140 participants in each group to have a power of 80%.

After analyzing my results, I found that the women who received stereotype threat before taking the math exam, did not score significantly lower than the women who were not introduced to such a stereotype as I had expected. After calculating the effect size, I found that if I were to increase my sample size to find a power of 80%, I would be more likely to find less overlap in the scores, and possibly find significant results. In order for a stereotype to have an effect, the individual must believe that the stereotype has some truth (Barquissau, Johns, & Schmader, 1999). It is possible that the group of individuals receiving the stereotype threat did not believe the information that they received on the topic. The study by Jim Duffy, Crystal Hickey, and Margaret Walsh (1999) found that women scored lower than men when they believed the test had shown previous gender differences. Perhaps if I would follow up on my study and compare the scores of women receiving the stereotype to a group of males, I may find similar results. It is also possible that my control group (that did not receive the stereotype threat) could have already been aware of this stereotype. To correct for this, I could do a follow up study. This study would include another experimental group that would receive information to encourage them to believe that women perform better on the specified mathematical task.

Barquissau, M., Johns, M., & Schmader, T. (2004) The costs of accepting gender differences: The role of stereotype endorsement in womenís experience in the math domain. Sex Roles, 50, 835.Duffy, J., Hickey, C., & Walsh, M. (1999) Influences of item content and stereotype situation on gender differences in mathematical problem solving. Sex Roles, 41, 219-240.Lord, C.G., McIntyre, R.B. & Paulson, R.M. (2003) Alleviating womenís mathematics stereotype threat through salience of group achievements. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 83.Smith, J.L., & White, P.H. (2001) Development of the domain identification measure: A tool for investigating stereotype threat effects. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 61, 1040-1057.Spencer, S.J., & Steele, C.M. (1999) Stereotype threat and womenís math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, (1999-2004) Retrieved October 24, 2004, from


Submitted 12/7/2004 6:17:41 PM
Last Edited 12/7/2004 6:26:05 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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