Thinking Makes it So: Math Version

by F.

I’ve blogged before about stereotype threats. Here’s another example, from a recent study. This graph shows the performance of four groups of women on a math test:


Pretty big differences, right? Now, what do you think accounts for the differences? JoAnne at Cosmic Variance gives a nice summary of the study, which I’ve slightly reformatted:

220 women were divided into 4 groups and given math and reading comprehension tests between 2003 and 2006. The women were given a GRE (Graduate Records Exam)-like math test, then asked to read an essay, and then given a second math exam. Four different essays were handed out.

The essays attributed gender differences in math performances to different things:

  • In the (ND) group, the essays argued that there are no gender related math-differences
  • In the (S) group, the essays employed standard sexual sterotypes without mentioning mathematical abilities
  • In the (G) group, the essays pointed to genetic causes
  • In the (E) group, the essays pointed to experiential differences between the sexes

What happened?

The results showed that the women receiving the (S) and (G) essays answered 5-10 out of 25 math questions correctly, while the (E) and (ND) essay groups answered 15-20 of the questions correctly. That’s a factor of 2 difference! In other words, the women that were told they would perform poorly because they were women, did.

Another summary is here.