Sex Roles

, Volume 54, Issue 1–2, pp 113–125 | Cite as

Discounting the Difficult: How High Math-Identified Women Respond to Stereotype Threat

  • Alexandra C. Lesko
  • Jennifer Henderlong CorpusEmail author


In this study, we examined how math identity moderates women's response to gender-related stereotypes in the domain of mathematics. Male and female college students with varying degrees of math identification took a challenging math test with a gender-related stereotype either activated (i.e., stereotype threat) or nullified. Consistent with previous research, women performed worse than men in the stereotype threat condition, but equal to men in the stereotype nullification condition when performance was adjusted for math SAT scores. Moreover, when faced with stereotype threat, high math-identified women discounted the validity of the test more than did less math-identified women or men in general. We discuss potential benefits and drawbacks of a discounting strategy for women who are highly identified with math.

Key Words

stereotype threat gender identity mathematics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ambady, N., Shih, M., Kim, A., & Pittinsky, L. T. (2001). Stereotype susceptibility in children: Effects of identity activation on quantitative performance. Psychological Science, 12, 385–389.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. American Association of University Women. (1995). How schools shortchange girls: The AAUW Report. New York: Marlowe.Google Scholar
  3. Arkin, R. M., & Oleson, K. C. (1998). Self-handicapping. In J. M. Darley & J. Cooper (Eds.), Attribution and social interaction: The legacy of Edward E. Jones (pp. 313–347). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  4. Benbow, C. P., Lubinski, D., Shea, D. L., & Eftekhari-Sanjani, H. (2000). Sex differences in mathematical reasoning ability at age 13: Their status 20 years later. Psychological Science, 11, 474–480.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Benbow, C. P., & Stanley, J. C. (1980). Sex differences in mathematical ability: Fact or artifact? Science, 210, 1262–1264.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, R. P., & Josephs, R. A. (1999). A burden of proof: Stereotype threat and gender differences in math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 246–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coley, R. J. (2001). Differences in the gender gap: Comparisons across racial/ethnic groups in education and work. Retrieved March 29, 2005, from
  8. Covington, M. (1992). Making the grade: A self-worth perspective on motivation and school reform. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Crocker, J., & Major, B. (1989). Social stigma and self esteem: The self-protective properties of stigma. Psychological Review, 96, 608–630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crocker, J., Voelkl, K., Testa, M., & Major, B. (1991). Social stigma: The affective consequences of attributional ambiguity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 218–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 5–18.Google Scholar
  12. Eccles, J. S., Barber, B., Jozefowicz, D., Malenchuk, O., & Vida, M. (1999). Self-evaluations of competence, task values, and self-esteem. In N. Johnson, M. Roberts, & J. Worell (Eds.), Beyond appearance: A new look at adolescent girls (pp. 53–83). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  13. Eccles, J. S., Jacobs, J. E., & Harold, R. E. (1990). Gender role stereotypes, expectancy effects, and parents' socialization of gender differences. Journal of Social Issues, 46, 183–201.Google Scholar
  14. Educational Testing Service. (2002). Sex, race, ethnicity, and performance on the GRE General Test. Retrieved December 1, 2003, from
  15. Fennema, E., & Sherman, J. (1977). Sex-related differences in mathematics achievement, spatial visualization, and affective factors. American Education Journal, 14, 51–71.Google Scholar
  16. Ford, T. E., Ferguson, M. A., Brooks, J. L., & Hagadone, K. M. (2004). Coping sense of humor reduces effects of stereotype threat on women's math performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 643–653.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Gonzalez, P., Guzman, J. C., Partelow, L., Pahlke, E., Jocelyn, L., Kastberg, D., et al. (2004). Highlights from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003 (NCES 2005–005). [U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics.] Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  18. Gonzalez, P. M., Blanton, H., & Williams, K. J. (2002). The effects of stereotype threat and double-minority status on the test performance of Latino women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 659–670.Google Scholar
  19. Harris, A. M., & Carlton, S. T. (1993). Patterns of gender differences on mathematics items on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Applied Measurement in Education, 6, 137–151.Google Scholar
  20. Heatherton, T. F., & Polivy, J. (1991). Development and validation of a scale for measuring state self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 895–910.Google Scholar
  21. Inzlicht, M., & Ben Zeev, T. (2000). A threatening intellectual environment: Why females are susceptible to experiencing problem-solving deficits in the presence of males. Psychological Science, 11, 365–371.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Johns, M., Schmader, T., & Martens, A. (2005). Knowing is half the battle: Teaching stereotype threat as a means of improving women's math performance. Psychological Science, 16, 175–179.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Keller, J. (2002). Blatant stereotype threat and women's math performance: Self-handicapping as a strategic means to cope with obtrusive negative performance expectations. Sex Roles, 47, 193–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Keller, J., & Dauenheimer, D. (2003). Stereotype threat in the classroom: Dejection mediates the disrupting effect on women's math performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 371–381.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kobrynowicz, D., & Branscombe, N. R. (1997). Who considers themselves victims of discrimination? Individual difference predictors of perceived gender discrimination in women and men. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 347–363.Google Scholar
  26. Leary, M. R., & Shepperd, J. A. (1986). Behavioral self-handicaps versus self-reported handicaps: A conceptual note. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 989–997.Google Scholar
  27. Leyens, J. P., Desert, M., Croizet, J. C., & Darcis, C. (2000). Stereotype threat: Are lower status and history of stigmatization preconditions of stereotype threat? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1189–1199.Google Scholar
  28. Major, B., Spencer, S., Schmader, T., Wolfe, C., & Crocker, J. (1998). Coping with negative stereotypes about intellectual performance: The role of psychological disengagement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 34–50.Google Scholar
  29. McKown, C., & Weinstein, R. S. (2003). The development and consequences of stereotype consciousness in middle childhood. Child Development, 74, 498–515.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Meece, J. L., Parsons, J. E., Kaczala, C. M., Goff, S. B., & Futterman, R. (1982). Sex differences in math achievement: Toward a model of academic choice. Psychological Bulletin, 91, 324–348.Google Scholar
  31. O'Brien, L. T., & Crandall, C. S. (2003). Stereotype threat and arousal: Effects on women's math performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 782–789.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Osborne, J. W. (1995). Academics, self-esteem, and race: A look at the underlying assumptions of the disidentification hypothesis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 449–455.Google Scholar
  33. Osborne, J. W. (1997). Race and academic disidentification. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 728–735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Osborne, J. W. (1999, April). Historical trends in academic disidentification by race: 1972–1992. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Education Research Association, Montreal, Canada.Google Scholar
  35. Pronin, E., Steele, C. M., & Ross, L. (2004). Identity bifurcation in response to stereotype threat: Women and mathematics. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 152–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Quinn, D. M., & Spencer, S. J. (2001). The interference of stereotype threat with women's generation of mathematical problem-solving strategies. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 55–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Sackett, P. R., Hardison, C. M., & Cullen, M. J. (2004). On interpreting stereotype threat as accounting for African American-White differences on cognitive tests. American Psychologist, 59, 7–13.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Schmader, T. (2002). Gender identification moderates stereotype threat effects on women's math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 194–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schmader, T., & Johns, M. (2003). Converging evidence that stereotype threat reduces working memory capacity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 440–452.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Schmader, T., Johns, M., & Barquissau, M. (2004). The costs of accepting gender differences: The role of stereotype endorsement in women's experience in the math domain. Sex Roles, 50, 835–850.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schmader, T., Major, B., & Gramzow, R. H. (2001). Coping with ethnic stereotypes in the academic domain: Perceived injustice and psychological disengagement. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 93–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Smith, J. L. (2004). Understanding the process of stereotype threat: A review of mediational variables and new performance goal directions. Educational Psychology Review, 16, 177–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Smith, J. L., & White, P. H. (2001). Development of the Domain Identification Measure: A tool for investigating stereotype threat effects. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 61, 1040–1057.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Smith, J. L., & White, P. H. (2002). An examination of implicitly activated, explicitly activated, and nullified stereotypes on mathematical performance: It's not just a woman's issue. Sex Roles, 47, 179–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women's math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 613–629.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797–811.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Steele, J., James, J. B., & Barnett, R. C. (2002). Learning in a man's world: Examining the perceptions of undergraduate women in male-dominated academic areas. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 46–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stone, J. (2002). Battling doubt by avoiding practice: The effects of stereotype threat on self-handicapping in White athletes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1667–1678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Stone, J., Lynch, C. I., Sjomeling, M., & Darley, J. M. (1999). Stereotype threat effects on Black and White athletic performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1213–1227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Swim, J. K. (1994). Perceived versus meta-analytic effect sizes: An assessment of the accuracy of gender stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 21–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tesser, A., & Campbell, J. (1980). Self-definition: The impact of the relative performance and similarity of others. Social Psychology Quarterly, 43, 341–346.Google Scholar
  54. van Laar, C. (2000). The paradox of low academic achievement but high self-esteem in African American students: An attributional account. Educational Psychology Review, 12, 33–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wheeler, S. C., & Petty, R. E. (2001). The effects of stereotype activation on behavior: A review of possible mechanisms. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 797–843.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Wilder, G. Z., & Powell, K. (1989). Sex differences in test performance: A survey of literature (College Board Report No. 89-3; ETS RR No. 89-4). New York: College Entrance Examination Board.Google Scholar
  57. Yzerbyt, V. Y., Muller, D., & Judd, C. M. (2004). Adjusting researchers' approach to adjustment: On the use of covariates when testing interactions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 424–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra C. Lesko
    • 1
  • Jennifer Henderlong Corpus
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyReed CollegePortland
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyReed CollegePortland

Personalised recommendations