In a Canadian experiment on “stereotype threat,” women were tested on math, asked to read an essay and given a second math test. Researchers wanted to see if the reasoning behind the stereotype would affect results. They divided college-age women into four groups.
Each took a three-part test, two math sections separated by a reading comprehension essay. The first essay argued that sex differences in math were due to genetic differences between men and women. The second cited a person’s experiences as the main factor. A third essay talked about gender differences but did not discuss mathematical ability. The final essay stated that there were no differences in mathematical ability between men and women.
Women given the essay focusing on genetic factors performed the worst of the four groups. Those focusing on experience did significantly better, and their performance was as good as the group that was told that gender differences do not exist, the team reports in tomorrow’s issue of Science.
Differences were significant. Low scorers got five to 10 questions right on average; high scores got 15 to 20 questions right.