Stereotype Spillover Effects on Women in Mathematics

Laura Elizabeth Jensen


This study sought to combine previous literature on stereotype threat in women regarding mathematics testing and stereotype threat spillover. Stereotype threat has been found to occur when a person is put into an environment or situation where they feel they may be negatively stereotyped and as a result, due to increased anxiety and emotional vigilance, perform worse than when in a stereotype-free environment1. It has also been found that stereotype threat may have spillover effects that last after the individual leaves the threat-filled environment, leading to a continued loss of executive control2. Studies have shown that with an intervention of reappraisal that causes individuals to rethink their emotions, stereotype threat can be diminished1. The current study tested if a reappraisal statement would increase women’s mathematics scores, minimize Stroop errors, and increase error-related negativity. Error-related negativity is a negative dip in event-related brain potential that occurs after an individual makes a mistake3. Error-related negativity is increased when individuals try for accuracy and is decreased when individuals prioritize speed over accuracy4.

Forty-six Bethel College undergraduate students served as participants. A between-subjects design was used comparing reappraisal and non-reappraisal conditions. Dependent variables included mathematics test scores, Stroop errors, and error-related negativity measures. Females were randomly assigned into the non-reappraisal or reappraisal group. All participants were given a test of mathematics performance followed by a Stroop task and debriefing sheet. Participants in the reappraisal condition were given instructions that included a reappraisal sentence just prior to the mathematics test. The reappraisal sentence informed participants that they should think of the test objectively rather than personally relevant to themselves. Electroencephalographic data were recorded during the Stroop task to test for error-related negativity.

Contrary to our expectations, the results demonstrated that the reappraisal condition (M = 4.83) had significantly lower mathematics test scores than did the non reappraisal (M = 11.92) condition t (20.46) = 3.87, p < 0.001). While Stroop errors showed no significant difference between groups, females in the non-reappraisal group had significantly higher error-related negativity during the Stroop task, indicating that females in this condition were monitoring their mistakes more closely than females in the reappraisal condition. These surprising results suggest that the reappraisal sentence may have induced rather than diminished stereotype threat. It is possible that in the environment at Bethel College women are not ordinarily subject to negative mathematics stereotypes. It is also possible that the reappraisal sentence prompted individuals to care less about their performance. Further research is needed to determine the conditions under which mathematics stereotype threat is experienced and how it may be evoked during reappraisal.


Stereotype Threat

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