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Stereotype Threat Affects Women's Performance in Math

May be reason for fewer women in science and engineering

MONDAY, Oct. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The stereotype that women do poorer on math tests may, in itself, cause women to do just that, according to study findings reported in the Oct. 20 issue of Science. The phenomenon is called stereotype threat and could be the reason for underrepresentation of women in science and engineering, the authors note.

Ilan Dar-Nimrod and Steven J. Heine, Ph.D., from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, examined how women's performance on math tests change after they read arguments for and against a genetic basis for sex disparity in math. Grades from this test were compared to grades from a test they took prior to reading the arguments.

Women who read arguments that genetics play a major role in sex-specific math performance performed poorer on their second test than those who read arguments that math differences are experiential or that math differences do not exist.

"Whether there are innate sex differences in math performance remains a contentious question," the authors write. "However, merely considering the role of genes in math performance can have some deleterious consequences."

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