Effect of stereotypes

patricia bowne pbowne at execpc.com
Thu Nov 2 10:52:36 EST 2000

Has anyone else seen the article in this week's Newsweek,
which claims that women who were reminded they were female before
a math test did worse on the test, and that women who had been
exposed to 'bimbo' stereotypes on the TV showed less interest in
science/math careers? 

Pretty chilling stuff, though I guess women shouldn't feel 
as bad as old people -- the same article says that old people
who'd been exposed to the stereotype of decrepitude were less
likely to accept life-prolonging medical intervention.

Anyway, it raises the interesting possibility that some of the
bias that's thought to be inherent in tests on which women
or minorities score poorly may be not in the test but in the 
stereotype that women and minorities will score
poorly. One study cited found that women did just as well as
men on a math test if they were told beforehand that women did
just as well as men on that particular test. 

Would this be a useful strategy for those of us who are teaching?
I think we could all (if we make up our own tests) quite 
truthfully tell our classes that our tests were designed so
that there should be no gender gap in performance on them. Many of
us could even truthfully tell the classes that the assignments and
learning activities were designed to eliminate the gender gap. 
Folks teaching more than one section of the same course could
do a controlled experiment.

I'd give it a shot myself, except that I work in a women's college.


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