Under threat but engaged: Stereotype threat leads women to engage with female but not male partners in math

Katherine R. Thorson, Chad E. Forbes, Adam B. Magerman, Tessa V. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This research tests how experiencing stereotype threat before a dyadic interaction affects women's engagement with peers during a dyadic math task. In a pilot study (N = 167; M age = 20.1 years), women who completed a manipulation of stereotype threat (a socially evaluative math task in front of male evaluators) experienced greater subjective threat than did men. In Studies 1A and 1B, math-identified female undergraduates completed the stereotype threat or control (doing math alone) manipulation and then completed a collaborative math task with another female or male student (who completed the control task). Sympathetic nervous system responses were collected to measure physiological linkage—the effect of participants’ physiological states on their partners’ subsequent physiological states—as an indicator of attention to the partner. We also measured the number of math-related questions participants asked their partners and task performance. In Study 1A (female-female dyads; N = 104; M age = 19.9 years), threatened women asked more questions than controls did and became physiologically linked to their partners when those partners were speaking about math. Threatened women performed comparably to controls. In Study 1B (female-male dyads; N = 140; M age = 20.0 years), threatened women did not ask more questions of their male partners than controls did, nor did they show physiological linkage to their male partners. Women performed worse than men did, regardless of condition. When working with a female, experiencing stereotype threat outside of a working interaction leads women to engage more; this effect does not occur when with a male.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-259
Number of pages17
JournalContemporary Educational Psychology
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • Dyadic interaction
  • Physiological linkage
  • STEM diversity
  • Stereotype threat
  • Student engagement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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