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When do Gender Stereotypes Impair Math Performance? A Study of Stereotype Threat Among Ugandan Adolescents

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Abstract

The present study examined the effect of gender-based stereotype threat (ST) on the mathematics performance of high school students in Uganda, East Africa, as moderated by students’ stereotype endorsement and/or their perceptions of stereotypic expectancies by others. Participants were 190 ninth grade students (age 14–15, senior 2, in Uganda) from all-female and coed boarding schools. Only perceived stereotypic expectancies by others significantly moderated ST effects on performance. A reminder of cross-gender comparisons led both young women and young men to underperform if they assumed that the researchers expected their own gender to do worse than the other gender. Importantly, students’ perceptions of the stereotypic expectancies of authority figures (i.e. researchers) mattered more for predicting their math performance than did students’ own endorsement of stereotypes. Collectively, these findings support a basic assumption of ST theory– that knowledge of a cultural stereotype is a prerequisite to the ST experience. Therefore, studies conducted with younger samples and in diverse cultural contexts should establish participants’ awareness of the stereotype in question. Also, regarding gender and math stereotypes, it should not be assumed that males will always be immune from stereotype-based performance deficits on quantitative tasks when tested in different cultures. Finally, results suggest that conveying an expectation that young men and young women have equal ability and potential might be important to preventing ST among younger age groups.

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Acknowledgements

The views expressed in the present article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Katherine Picho.

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The present study was not funded. There are no conflicts of interest to report. The study was approved by the institutional research board at the first author’s institution.

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Picho, K., Schmader, T. When do Gender Stereotypes Impair Math Performance? A Study of Stereotype Threat Among Ugandan Adolescents. Sex Roles 78, 295–306 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0780-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0780-9

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