You know the stereotype: men are better at math than women. Of course it’s not accurate, but it turns out that the stereotype itself may be negatively affecting our math performance. In a recent study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, Indiana University’s Katie J. Van Loo and Robert J. Rydell suggest that women are negatively affected by seeing models of male dominance within the context of math.

 

For the study, 133 women asked to complete math tests after seeing various videos. In some videos, male actors expressed signs of dominance over female actors, telling them what to do and displaying more authoritative body language; in others, men and women were shown being equally dominant or women were shown as being dominant over men. 

 

The women who had watched the videos in which men were dominant performed less well on math tests than those who viewed the other videos, while the 101 men studied showed no shift in scores based on the videos. The interesting thing is that the disparity only occurred when the video centered around mathematics; when the video was on a subject wherein there is no gender stereotype, the women’s test scores were unaffected. 

 

In other words, behavior that validates the stereotype seems to reinforce it, causing women to perform less well than they might otherwise on math test. It must also be noted that women shown videos of dominant females did not have a better chance than those shown videos of males and females treating one another equally. These results are still preliminary and more research is needed, but they certainly encourage us to embrace models in which people of all genders perform on equal footing. That way, we might all increase our potential in every subject, regardless of gender. 

 

Thanks to The Raw Story

Image via The Jane Dough

Tagged in: women in math, stereotype, sexism, science, mathematics, gender, feminism, engineering   

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