The Effect Of Stereotype Threat

Many people assume that girls won’t ever choose to do a degree in engineering, or technology-based courses because its a ‘boys subject’. As it happens, girls who do choose these types of courses may be subject to stereotype threat – the belief that you will automatically be bad at something, makes you perform worse.

In a study by Spencer, Steele & Quinn (1999), a group of university students were given a difficult maths test. They were split into 2 conditions – the first condition was told that they had shown gender differences in the past, and the second was not told anything along the lines of any differences between genders.

The results? The girls in the first condition performed worse than the males, yet in the second condition, both genders performed equally as well as one another.This highlights how if people are told about a negative stereotype, it becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy – you already assume that you wont perform well on something, therefore you don’t.

Some psychologists argue that this effect may be caused by people diverting attention away from the task, and focussing more on the doubts they have in their head, which therefore leads them to fulfil the stereotype.

It is worth baring this in mind when you face particular challenges where you don’t expect yourself to do well. Knowing about the effects of stereotype threat should motivate you to be the outlier, and consciously try to prove the stereotype wrong.

You can find the Spencer, Steele & Quinn article here 

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