The Effects of Stereotype Threat on Females' Mathematical Performance: A Multi-Faceted Situational Phenomenon?


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Background: Over the past two decades there has been an upsurge of research documenting the deleterious effects that stereotype threat exerts on females' mathematical performance. However, there is still some debate regarding the mechanisms that underpin this situational phenomenon. The current thesis argues that one reason that may have precluded finding firm evidence of mediation is the recognition of distinct stereotype threats. Aims: Underpinned by social identity theory, the current thesis examines experimentally whether self-as-target and group-as-target stereotype threat influence females' mathematical performance. It aims to elucidate further whether deficits in working memory or heightened motivation mediate the stereotype threat-performance relationship. Method: Experiment 1 “ Female participants were primed with a negative self-as-target or group-as-target stereotype and completed a modular arithmetic test to provide an initial investigation of the working memory interference account. Experiment 2 “ Female participants were primed with a negative self- or group-relevant stereotype and completed an anti-saccade eye-tracking task to pit the working memory interference account against the mere effort motivational account. Experiment 3 “ Both the anti-saccade and modular arithmetic tasks were employed to examine whether a positive group stereotype motivated female participants to perform well or led them to ˜choke under pressure'. Experiment 4 & 5 “ Female participants completed an updating, shifting and inhibition task under self-as-target, group-as-target or ˜combined' stereotype threat conditions to examine whether these primes reduce general executive functioning. Experiment 6 “ Female participants were tested alone or in groups to explore whether heightened social identity would act as a protective factor to augment their mathematical performance from self-as-target and group-as-target stereotype threat. It also examined whether stereotype threat and the group composition of the testing context influenced a fixed-ability mindset. Results: In line with a working memory interference account, females who were primed with both a self-as-target and group-as-target stereotype underperformed on problems that were presented horizontally relative to vertically. Self-as-target stereotype threat appeared to a have a greater negative effect on overall performance (Experiment 1). However, these primes did not appear to influence performance on visuospatial tasks (Experiments 2 & 3). The salience of a positive group stereotype impeded females' performance on difficult maths problems consistent with theories of ˜choking under pressure' (Experiment 3). Females showed reduced updating ability when they were primed concurrently with a self- and group-relevant stereotype prime, with this mediating the stereotype threat-performance relationship. This effect was not observed under conditions in which a task was deemed as solely diagnostic of personal or gender-related ability (Experiments 4 & 5). Finally, females solved more mathematical problems when they completed a maths test in single-sex groups relative to alone, suggesting that heightened in-group representation may serve to reduce stereotype threat effects. However, participants in single-sex groups appeared to endorse a weaker growth mind-set compared to those tested alone. Conclusion: Taken together, findings suggest that females may be more susceptible to stereotype threat when both their personal and social identities are made salient in the stereotyped domain. In such situations, stereotype threat appears to diminish verbal working memory resources to bring about decrements in mathematical performance. Original Contribution: The empirical research presented in this thesis represents the first to examine the mechanisms that underpin the effects of different stereotype threats on females' mathematical performance.
Date of Award17 Oct 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorDerek Heim (Director of Studies) & DEREK LARKIN (Supervisor)

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