How Stereotype Threat May Cause Poor Performance In Women

2036 words - 8 pages

Throughout the years, males have dominated the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with very few females finding their way in the mix (Steinberg, Okun, & Aiken, 2012). Those females enrolling in the STEM majors soon find themselves questioning why they have, and many quickly change their majors to more female-accepting professions (Steele, James, & Barnett, 2002). The view that women lack the intellect to succeeded in STEM disciplines has been a prevailing one for much of history (Cadinu, Maass, Rosabianca, & Kiesner, 2005). Many researchers have questioned whether it is social stigma impeding female success or indeed basic biological differences that make males are more successful in these fields than women (Smith, Sansone, & White, 2007).
One theory explaining why low number of females achieve STEM degrees attributes its cause to stereotype threat (Schmader & Johns, 2003). Stereotype threat is defined as a “socially-premised psychological threat that arises when one is in a situation or doing something for which a negative stereotype about one’s group applies.” (Steele, 1997, p 614). According to C.M. Steele and Aronson (1995), there are two types of stereotype threat a person can encounter. The first kind of stereotype threat a person can come across is when that person acknowledges that a negative stereotype exists about their social group and their capabilities. The second type of stereotype threat is when a person is more hesitant to participate in certain activities out of a fear of confirming the stereotype of their social group. If encountered with a stereotype threat, people facing discrimination may self-handicap, self-suppress, dis-identificate, or disengage with whatever activity they are participating in (Good, Aronson, Inzlicht, 2003).
Time and time again, researchers have demonstrated how influential words can be on the human mind. Stigmatism of a minority group might inadvertently confirm expectations of majority group memberst (Cadinu, et al. 2005). Merely stating a stereotype, such as that men are smarter than woman, can cause women to experience arousal, anxiety, and temporary cognitive deficits (Rydell, Rydell, & Boucher, 2010). These responses to stereotype threat can cause lower performance on an exam, even if a female and a male are at the same level of intelligence and qualification.
Although the underlying process of stereotype threat are not entirely known, it could be connected to impairments of working memory and side effects of anxiety (Krendel, Richeson, Kelley, & Hetherton,2008). In a study done by Schmader and Johns (2003), woman under stereotype threat showed a lower memory capacity along with subject-specific negative thoughts. This may be related to poor performance because the threat triggers performance anxiety, which in turn lowers self-confidence. The anxiety triggers subject specific negative thoughts that consume the working memory making it...

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