Negative Stereotypes Undermine Women's Math Performance

Negative stereotypes about women's mathematical abilities can lead to worse performance on math tests.

Negative stereotypes about women’s mathematical abilities can lead to worse performance on math tests.

In a new study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, men and women were randomly assigned to take a math test after hearing a stereotype, or they were asked to predict how a woman might feel and perform taking the same test. The researchers told participants that they were trying to determine why men generally performed better than women in math.

Both genders in the latter group predicted that women would have more negative emotional reactions than they really did. Those in the forecasting group also predicted that women would overcome these emotional reactions and perform at a high level. However, the results of the study demonstrated that this was not the case; women’s performance was undermined by the negative stereotypes in the group that actually took the math test.

Men and women were almost equally likely to say that women would be able to overcome the stereotype reminder. They expected the stereotype to serve as a motivation for challenging that line of thinking.

Nevertheless, women who took the test did not feel that the stereotype worked as a significant motivator.

“Thoughtful applications of this study’s findings…could help address women’s achievement gaps, and increase their representation, in the fields where they’re most negatively stereotyped,” said Indiana University social psychologist and study author Kathryn L. Boucher in a press release. “Recognizing the problem is the first step to addressing it.”