Sex Roles

, Volume 79, Issue 11–12, pp 621–632 | Cite as

The Importance of Knowing your History: Perceiving Past Women as less Agentic than Contemporary Women Predicts Impaired Quantitative Performance

  • Nida BikmenEmail author
  • Mary Abbott Torrence
  • Victoria Krumholtz
Original Article


Research on dynamic stereotypes of women has shown that women perceive large differences between contemporary women and women who lived in the past in terms of agentic (or masculine) traits. This temporal discrepancy in agentic attributes of women may suggest that agency is not a stable trait of women and may result in impaired performance in domains associated with agency, such as quantitative reasoning. We propose that women who think that agency has always characterized their gender group would perform better in quantitative tasks. Indeed, we found that as the difference between agency attributed to present and past women decreased, U.S. college women’s (n = 80) accuracy in a quantitative test increased (Study 1). Further, reading a text about women’s achievements in the history of science reduced the discrepancy between agency attributed to past and present women and had an indirect positive effect on quantitative performance by 150 U.S. college women (Study 2). Findings suggest that women’s participation and performance in science could be improved by raising awareness of women’s historical achievements in male-dominated areas.


Dynamic stereotypes Identity continuity Agency Psychological essentialism Stereotype threat 



The authors thank Dr. Kay Deaux for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The authors, Nida Bikmen, Mary Abbott Torrence, and Victoria Krumholtz declare that they have no conflict of interest regarding the revised manuscript titled “The importance of knowing your history: Perceiving past women as less agentic than contemporary women predicts impaired quantitative performance” and submitted to Sex Roles for publication. The two studies reported in the manuscript were approved by Denison University, Department of Psychology Human Subjects Review Board. The informed consent documents for the two studies will be made available upon request. No funding was received for conducting the research.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_904_MOESM1_ESM.docx (41 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 40 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyDenison UniversityGranvilleUSA
  2. 2.Gaston College Preparatory High School, KIPPGastonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyXavier UniversityCincinnatiUSA

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