Stereotype Threat in a Real-Life Setting

A great post at eduwonkette looks at gender and stereotype threat in math performance. Stereotype threat has been well-documented in "laboratory" settings, but eduwonkette reports on a study in a real-life setting:

These men and women were, by all accounts, in the pipeline for math and science careers. Students in the "gender nullifying" treatment read just a few extra sentences before taking their tests:

What about gender differences? This mathematics test has not shown any gender differences in performance or mathematics ability. The test has been piloted in many mathematics courses across the nation to determine how reliable and valid the test is for measuring mathematics ability. Analysis of thousands of students' test results has shown that males and females perform equally well on this test. In other words, this mathematics test shows no gender differences.

In the control group, the test was administered under normal conditions, and women and men performed equally. But women who received the "gender nullifying" treatment (reading the statement above) outperformed men. The authors concluded that "even among the most highly qualified and persistent women in college mathematics, stereotype threat suppresses test performance."

What to make of this? Does this support what some people claim, which is that women on average have to be better than men just to persist in the pipeline in math, science, and engineering? In which case, the "gender nullifying" treatment released some or all of their true capabilities. Eduwonkette goes on to speculate about what interventions, if any, we should undertake given this information. Don't worry guys, she also asks the "but what about the boys?" question so you don't have to feel left out for even a second!

Hat tip to Women in Science for pointing me to this.

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Gender null? Is that like the twenty extra points femmes used to be awarded so they could pass the entrance exam? Is it like the fake physical standards that are far less than the male's?

For Dagon's sake, let us allow women to excell. Nothing is gained by treating women as lesser beings. Give both genders the opportunity to thrive and let them follow their dreams.

It may be, PhysioProf, it may be! I award him extra points for simultaneously complaining that women are and are not inferior. I believe we can categorize this as the old "separate but equal" complaint as it applies to gender.

Interesting post indeed, Zuska. I'm sending the links to my neice who is just entering university this fall, and who excels in everything, including math, and has great self confidence, except in her ability to excel at math.

Amusing comment indeed from someone who uses the handle 'mold' - either of its common definitions.

I'd be very curious to see how this compares with other similar statements. Naively speaking one other issue that could come into play here is that some people may be interpreting the statement not just as gender nullifying statement but as a directly positive statement. I'm not sure completely how to quantify/distinguish that.

Maybe I missed this, but what were the actualy score averages? Perhaps the boys who read the "gender neutralizing" statement did worse on their test because they were all threatened by not having a gender advantage over the girls?
(yes, that was snarky.)