It is well established that negative stereotypes can undermine women's performance on mathematics tests. Despite considerable laboratory evidence for the role of "stereotype threat" in girls' and women's math test performance, the relevance of such findings for the "real world" gender test-score gap remains unclear and debates about causes focus primarily on innate sex differences in cognitive capacity. Reported here are results of a field experiment that tested the usefulness of the stereotype threat formulation for understanding women's performance in upper levels of college mathematics - men and women who are highly motivated and proficient mathematicians and who are in the pipeline to mathematics and science professions. Our primary hypothesis was confirmed. Test performance of women in a stereotype-nullifying presentation of the test in an experimental group was raised significantly to surpass that of the men in the course. In a control group, in which test-takers were given the test under normal test instructions, women and men performed equally. The pattern of results suggests that even among the most highly qualified and persistent women in college mathematics, stereotype threat suppresses test performance.
- Gender stereotypes
- Sex differences
- Stereotype threat
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology