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Ignoring stereotypes can help females excel in studies

Washington, Mon, 04 May 2009 ANI

Washington, May 4 (ANI): Want to excel in studies? Well, then, start thinking positive. That's the advice from researchers at Indiana University, who have found that women perform worse on math tasks if simply made aware of the negative stereotype that women are weaker in math than men.

 

The researchers suggest that just the awareness of a stereotype can influence performance regardless of actual ability.

 

The study led by Robert J. Rydell, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University has also 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 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," said Rydell.

 

"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," he added.

 

During the study, the researchers conducted 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.

 

And some were made aware of both stereotypes. The researchers found that 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.

 

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," Rydel added.

 

The study appears in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (ANI)

 


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