Research – PaulaJean

From the beginning of time, women have been looked at as inferior to men in one way or another. As the stereotypes slowly diminish, people still find themselves with certain thoughts towards females, whether they are one or not.

Women are strong and independent, but this does not make them immune to expectancy bias and stereotype threat. As extremely emotional beings, women may be seen as weak. And when emotion overrides logic, they can be seen as unintelligent. Although being emotional is nowhere near a bad characteristic, some stereotypes can make society think otherwise. Some of these attributes may not be prevalent in a woman’s head all the time, but there are ways that they can be triggered into becoming entertained.

Expectancy bias is a simple yet interesting concept. Say a sibling “never does anything wrong”, so when the mother sees the broken lamp, she automatically assumes it was the other sibling and grounds them, when it was really the other sibling. The mother expects it to be the other child being that the other one usually is well behaved. An expectation can really control the way we perceive and believe things.

Josh Aronson, a New York University professor, has done multiple studies based around expectancy bias and stereotype threat. A study was done with high school students who were taking an AP calculus test. They were split up in to two different groups. One group was asked to confirm their gender before the test and the other afterwards. “Females who received the gender inquiry before the test scored an average AP Formula Score of 12.5, while males scored an average of 16.5. In the groups that received the gender inquiry after the test, females scored an average of 15, while males scored an average of 14.” (Anderson, 2011) Aronson’s study really sheds light on the importance of what we say and how.

In another study by John Bargh, a social psychologist at Yale University, he had NYU undergraduate students rearrange words into a sentence. The words appeared to be random, but they were not at all. “They were words like “bingo” and “Florida,” “knits” and “wrinkles,” “bitter” and “alone.” Reading the list, you can almost picture a stooped senior padding around a condo, complaining at the television. A control group unscrambled words that evoked no theme.” (Bartlett, 2013) After these students rearranged the words, there was a woman outside who appeared to be waiting for a meeting. She had a stopwatch hidden under her coat and timed how long it took for the subjects to get from outside the door to a specific spot marked by tape on the ground. The words above lead the subjects walk slower than the control group.

Just the words that were used resulted in people actually walking a different pace than normal. Knowing now that just the collection of words said changed a person’s actions, society should be careful with how they speak to people. For example, a proctor may say something that does not mean to be discouraging, but it could turn out to really affect the way a person takes a test.

This concept is demonstrated in multiple studies done by Steven J. Spencer, Claude M. Steele, and Diana M. Quinn. These individuals were interested in stereotype threats and women. More specifically, they wanted to see how different variables effected women and their performance on varying math tests. Within their research, there were three different studies done. The first study involved twenty-eight women and twenty-eight men who were introductory psychology students at the University of Michigan. There were also other criteria that needed to be met to be considered for this study. “All participants were required to have completed at least one semester (but not more than a year) of calculus and to have received a grade of ‘‘B’’ or better. They also were required to have scored above the 85th percentile on the math subsection of the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT (American College Test).”

The first study involved the subjects taking a math test. They took either an easier test or a more difficult one, not knowing which one they were taking. This was to compare women’s and men’s scores on both levels of difficulty. Comparing these scores can show whether or not stereotype threat is present and if women are just not as intelligent as men. The tests were given on a computer to compare time and effort and see if that had anything to do with the results. In the first study, women did just as well as men on the easier test, but did significantly worse on the harder test. Although these students were selected carefully and are very sufficient in mathematics, the thought in the back of the women’s mind altered the way they took the test.

The second study was designed to see if mentioning that the exam is gender sensitive would effect the scores. They wrote a statement for the students to see before taking the test. This statement was put in place to see if mentioning the stereotypes will effect the results from the first study.

“As you may know there has been some controversy about whether there are gender differences in math ability. Previous research has sometimes shown gender differences and sometimes shown no gender differences. Yet little of this research has been carried out with women and men who are very good in math. You were selected for this experiment because of your strong background in mathematics.” (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999)

After reading this and taking the test, women averaged significantly less than they did in the first study, making the men the higher scorers in both studies so far. These results lead the experimenters to conclude that stereotype threat can most definitely lower a women’s score. In the third study, they had less highly selected subjects from a different college. The test given in this study was on paper and slightly easier than the tests from the first and second study. Before taking this test, they were asked to complete a questionnaire to evaluate evaluation comprehension, self-efficacy, and anxiety. One group of subjects was told there are no gender-differences on this test and the control group was not told anything about gender and how it relates to performance on math and science exams. The subjects who were told there are no differences came up with interesting results. The women did better in this group than they did in the control group. Men beat out the women in the control group as they did in the first two studies. Additionally, men actually did worse when told that there were no gender differences. Stereotype threat is everywhere and can always be altered.

“How Stereotypes Can Drive Women Away From Science,” by Shankar Vedantam is another article that proves stereotype threat in women is very real in the math or science field. Toni Schmader and Matthias Mehl are two experimenters who studied women and men at work. These subjects are math professors and were wired with a recording device while at work. The main thing Mehl was trying to record was the interaction between the female and male colleagues. This study was prompted by the fact that women are not only less likely to go in the science field, but less likely to stick with it. Women drop out of this type of career at a much higher rate then the male scientists.

The recording devices recorded 30 seconds of audio every 12 minutes. This was a good size sample for analyzing random and casual conversations between colleagues.

Mehl and Schmader immediately proved one stereotype wrong. They debunked the common thought that women talk a great deal more than men. “When Mehl actually measured how many words men and women speak each day, he found there was practically no difference — both men and women speak around 17,000 words a day, give or take a few hundred.” (Vedantam, 2012)

They also found that the more self conscious or worried a women was about whether or not a man (who they were conversing with) held the stereotype about women not being as competent in this particular field, the more incompetent they sounded.

When a woman spoke to another woman, they were fully engaged no matter what the topic was. Meanwhile, when a woman spoke to a man about work or research they were greatly disengaged. Though they could speak to males about other topics and be just as engaged as they would with another woman. Women who focus on the stereotype end up falling into the stereotype threat trap. They do not realize that their fear of not living up to expectations or their fear of being a stereotype, actually makes them a part of the stereotype.

A huge thing that goes along with discussing stereotype threat is talking about how to completely eliminate it from classrooms and work places. Anybody can be (and probably is) effected by stereotype threat. Promoting a growth mindset is very important. Making mistakes and thinking out loud should be encouraged and should be taken as chances to learn more. Effective feedback is also something that should be considered in classrooms everywhere. Most feedback is short and not helpful to some students and even demeaning. Effective feedback includes reassurance and shows areas where improvement is suggested. Teachers who call on students less and give them easier problems are making the stereotypes real. They are subliminally causing students to stop believing in themselves and causing them to be comfortable with the easy material rather than challenging themselves and learning. The threshold of leaning and retaining new material will never be met by keeping students discouraged or at a lower level just because they do not want to put in the extra work. Finally, creating a sense of belonging in the classroom like sharing experiences (anonymously or not) could help students feel more as one rather than a single stereotype that they do not even want to try to disprove.

Other factors outside of school that will eliminate stereotype threat could be having more women in the scientific field, mentioning that everybody has the same abilities when it pertains to gender, race, and/or ethnicity, and getting rid of the questions before the test that ask the students to confirm their gender or race.

Having more women in the field will make the other women more comfortable. The more women, the more validating it is for each female individual. As seen in the Mehl and Schmader study, women are more engaged when talking to women no matter what the topic is than when they were talking to men. Before a test or task, teachers or proctors should mention that everybody has a chance of doing good (no matter the demographics). Hearing this could give anybody more confidence, male/female, black/white, etc.. The questions before standardized tests that ask to confirm gender, race, and ethnicity actually make students who are effect by stereotype threat struggle more. Eliminating these or moving them to the end will create a more comfortable and fair for everybody.

Evidence even shows that stereotype threat can not only inhibit performance but also prevents people from learning new things. In a study done by Robert J. RydellRichard M. ShiffrinKathryn L. BoucherKatie Van Loo and Michael T. Rydell, it was proven that women under stereotype threat had a harder time learning attention responses to targets. They used Chinese characters and tested how much the search rate increases/decreases for a whole training session. “For women not trained under ST, the presence of a trained target on one square slowed responding, indicating that training had caused the learning of an attention response to targets. Women trained under ST showed no slowing, indicating that they had not learned such an attention response.” (Rydell, Shiffrin, Boucher, Loo, and Rydell, 2010)

They also found that where the stereotype that women are not as good at math is where the women’s math performance is lower.

Women today are so much more than a stereotype. The fact that women are basically living their lives due to a false thought placed inside their heads by society is absolutely mind baffling. Stereotype threat is everywhere around us and the ways to prevent it are so simple.


Bartlett, T. (2013, January 30). Power of Suggestion. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from

Expectancy Bias. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from Bias

Reducing Stereotype Threat. Retrieved from threat/

Rydell, R. J., Shiffrin, R. M., Boucher, K. L., Loo, K. V., & Rydell, M. T. (2010, August 10). Stereotype threat prevents perceptual learning. Retrieved from

Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35(1), 4-28. doi:10.1006/jesp.1998.1373

Vedantam, S. (2012, July 12). How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science. Retrieved from -jobs

Why Stereotype Threat Keeps Girls Out of Math and Science, and What to Do About It. (2011, June 01). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from

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