Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Psyched Out By Stereotypes: Research Suggests Thinking About The Positive

Date:
May 5, 2009
Source:
Indiana University
Summary:
Cognitive scientists have shown that when aware of both a negative and positive stereotype related to performance, women will identify more closely with the positive stereotype, avoiding the harmful impact the negative stereotype unwittingly can have on their performance. This is the first study to examine the influence of concurrent stereotypes, one negative and one positive. It also demonstrated how the negative stereotype encroached on working memory while the positive stereotype did not.

In a new study, cognitive scientists have shown that when aware of both a negative and positive stereotype related to performance, women will identify more closely with the positive stereotype, avoiding the harmful impact the negative stereotype unwittingly can have on their performance.

Related Articles


The study, led by Robert J. Rydell, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, focused on women and math ability. While studies -- including this one -- have shown that women will perform worse on mathematical tasks if simply made aware of the negative stereotype that women are weaker at math than men, this is the first study to examine the influence of concurrent and competing stereotypes, one negative and one positive.

The study also demonstrates how the negative stereotype encroached on working memory, thus leaving less brain power for the mathematical task at hand. The positive stereotypes had no such effect, however, and when coupled with the negative stereotype erased its drain on working memory.

"This research shows that because people are members of multiple social groups that often have contradictory performance stereotypes (for example, Asian females in the domain of math), making them aware of both a positive group stereotype and a negative stereotype eliminates the threat and underperformance that is usually seen when they dwell only on their membership in a negatively stereotyped group," Rydell said. "People seem motivated to align themselves with positively stereotyped groups and, as a byproduct, can eliminate the worry, stress and cognitive depletion brought about by negative performance stereotypes, increasing actual performance."

Stereotype threat -- where just the awareness of a stereotype can influence performance regardless of actual ability -- has been demonstrated in many domains, from driving cars to cooking. In academics, high-stakes tests, such as college entrance exams, often ask test-takers to select demographic information, such as gender and level of education, before beginning the test.

One of the experiments in Rydell's study followed this format, with some test-takers asked to identify only their gender -- all were women -- before working on the math problems. These study participants did not perform as well as the students who were asked to provide additional demographic information, such as their education level, which was considered a positive stereotype.

"A stereotype that might be positive for one person could be considered negative to another," Rydell said. "The easiest fix would be to ask for demographic information after the test."

The study involved four experiments in which female undergraduate college students were asked to perform difficult math problems. Some were given no information about the stereotypes before working on the problems. Some students were made aware only of the negative stereotype, that men were better at math than women. Some students were only made aware of the positive stereotype, that college students performed better at math than non-college students. Some of the students were made aware of both stereotypes.

Each experiment involved between 57 and 112 college students, using new students with each experiment. Here are some of the findings:

  • In all four experiments, the women who learned only of the negative stereotype performed worse than the women in the other three groups, who on average showed no difference in performance level.
  • One experiment used a word association exercise to gauge which social group the study participants identified with more strongly -- being female or a college student. When presented with both stereotypes, the women identified more with their college student identity and less with their gender identity.
  • One of the experiments measured the students' working memory once they learned of one or both stereotypes. The women who learned only of the negative stereotype demonstrated less available working memory.

Rydell said people become aware of stereotypes in different ways. For women, simply sitting between two men while taking a math test can activate the negative gender stereotype.

"The activation of the stereotype is relatively automatic and hard to control," he said. "Whether you choose to endorse or believe the stereotype, however, is under your control. One option is to think about the positive groups you're associated with that are related to the task at hand."

Co-authors include Allen R. McConnell, Miami University; and Sian L. Beilock, University of Chicago.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Indiana University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rydell et al. Multiple social identities and stereotype threat: Imbalance, accessibility, and working memory.. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2009; 96 (5): 949 DOI: 10.1037/a0014846

Cite This Page:

Indiana University. "Psyched Out By Stereotypes: Research Suggests Thinking About The Positive." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090504094300.htm>.
Indiana University. (2009, May 5). Psyched Out By Stereotypes: Research Suggests Thinking About The Positive. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090504094300.htm
Indiana University. "Psyched Out By Stereotypes: Research Suggests Thinking About The Positive." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090504094300.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

AP (Dec. 16, 2014) More departments are ordering their first responders to sit in on training sessions that focus on how to more effectively interact with those with autism spectrum disorder (Dec. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Newsy (Dec. 12, 2014) A study out of Britain suggest men are more idiotic than women based on the rate of accidental deaths and other factors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Believing in Father Christmas Good for Children's Imaginations

Believing in Father Christmas Good for Children's Imaginations

AFP (Dec. 12, 2014) As the countdown to Christmas gets underway, so too does the Father Christmas conspiracy. But psychologists say that telling our children about Santa, flying reindeer and elves is good for their imaginations. Duration: 01:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins