Gender stereotypes exist across all cultures and all societies. If an individual abides by stereotype threat, they are likely to perform poorly in any subsequently associated challenge. Various studies have been conducted mainly focusing on examining effects of stereotypes activation on performance.
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Past studies have revealed that performance can be depressed when individuals feel that the group to which they belong is negatively stereotyped with respect to that area; in our case, women are poor performers in mathematics. This study sought to investigate whether activating implicit gander stereotypes in female can influence performance in mathematics.
As a result, it was hypothesized that increasing the salience of female identity stereotypes decreases performance in mathematics. The study used two groups of 50 randomly selected 2nd year female students each. The participants were subjected to two different prime conditions.
One was a gender based prime where they watched a two minute You tube clip from “Part of Your World” while the other was nature based where the participants watched dolphins playing near the shore from BBC’s Planet Earth. Participants later took a two minutes 10 questions mathematics test.
The results were analyzed using descriptive statistics and particularly the mean. The results revealed that the participants who were subjected to the gender based prime performed relatively poorly compared to their counterparts on the nature prime. This thus indicated that actually activating implicit gender stereotypes in females influences performance in mathematics. The study therefore illustrates the negative impact of gender stereotyping and media representation of females.
Influence of Activating Implicit Gender Stereotypes in Females on Performance in Mathematics
The aspect of sex differences in education is one of the most researched areas concerning gender and education. Particularly, a male-female characteristic versus performance comparison takes centre stage. In their book “The psychology of sex differences,” Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) reviewed 1400 research articles on sex differences.
According to the authors, it is hard to underpin the role of stereotyping on individuals’ development of behavior or cognitive sex differences. Nonetheless, they concluded that some observable patterns of behavior thrive in areas of verbal and mathematical skills where girls are better in the former and boys are good at the latter.
Gender patterns in performance on various subjects vary from country to country. For instance an assessment by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in Iceland revealed that , girls have proven to be superior to boys in three major areas namely mathematics, science and reading.
In Ireland however, the Irish PISA revealed that boys outperformed girls in proficiency in mathematics. Similar results were revealed in multiple choices questions and there was reduced anxiety about mathematics among boys as opposed to girls (OECD, 2004).
The International Assessment of Education Progress (IAEP) comparative study in 1991 showed that the differences in male and female socialization patterns in various societies, communities and cultures; as well as variations across time and space are the most significant factors influencing the development of gender differences in capabilities and attainment (Eurydice, 2010).
PISA 2003 pointed out that there were significantly small differences in performance among students in relation to gender. That is to say, males performed slightly better than girls (OECD, 2001) did. Basing on the above literature, the effects of stereotypes on performance and specifically on females clearly exists.
However, studies on priming have revealed that in the view of commencement of stereotypes and their forthcoming self-fulfillment, unconstructive self-related stereotypes are actually hazardous (Wheeler and Petty, 2001). Thus, unexpected fulfillment of the stereotype by the involved subject strengthens it, putting into play a fatal cycle of self-continuation (Ambady, Paik, Steele, Owen-Smith and Mitchell, 2003).
There exists a gap in literature on whether effects of negative stereotyping can be counteracted once introduced to participants. A study by Stangor, Carr and Kiang (1998), reported that after stereotype activation on participants who were made to believe that they were good in word finding puzzle, the participants did not perform significantly better.
Thus, this indicates that stereotype activation may not have necessarily influenced their performance. To this effect, a study was carried out to find out if gender stereotype priming could actually influence performance in a mathematics test among female students. To achieve the study objective, the study hypothesized that increasing the salience of female identity stereotypes decreases mathematics performance by females.
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The study used a cross sectional survey research design. This design allows researchers to collect data from a large sample, to use hypotheses and to get respondents’ opinions and feelings on issues relevant to the study (Kothari, 2008). More so, this design is cost effective, provides for generalization of the data collected and further allows for hypothesis testing while at the same time allowing the researcher to report respondents’ opinions, feelings, attitudes and propositions.
The population was represented in the study by a randomly selected sample of 100 students whose selection was based on Balian’s (1988) recommendations for determining an appropriate sample size. Mugenda and Mugenda (2003), describe a population as an entire group of individuals, events, or objects having a common observable characteristic. The population of study in this case was second year female students.
Balian recommends a sample size of 60 to 300 or at most an average of 200 respondents in a survey study with an alteration of 10%. To this effect, the researcher decided to use 100 cases for the study. They were split into two groups each containing 50 members. By flipping a coin, all female participants were randomly assigned to specific conditions. The first conditions were the gender prime condition where participants watched a two minutes clip on YouTube of “Part of Your World.”
The second prime condition was a nature prime in which participants watched a narration by David Attenborough, which was a clip of dolphins playing near the shore from the BBC’s Planet Earth. This film does not present any gender stereotyping nor is there any mention of gender aspects.
The respondents were then given ten simple mathematics questions to answer within two minutes. The questions were developed with consultation with peers so as to ensure the validity of the data collection instrument. The data collected was analyzed with the aid of the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 17.0 (Eurydice, 2010).
After the data had been collected, it was cleaned up, coded, and then entered into the computer program. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize and present the data in narrative, graphical and tabular form. Using descriptive statistics specifically the mean, frequencies and percentages, the study objectives were summarized, analyzed and reported.
Results and Discussion
Figure 1: Comparison of performance between the gender stereotype prime and nature prime.
The study revealed that on average, mathematics performance was depressed for participants in the gender stereotype prime condition. That is to say that the females who watched disney’s Marmaid were likely to perform poorly in this subject (Refer to figure 1 above).
This could be interpreted to mean that female gender stereotypes may have been made salient and thus might have affected the participants’ self-concept and increased their anxiety. Past research results have revealed that girls more than boys have high anxiety with regard to mathematics. These results supported the observation by OECD, (2004) who noted that girls had higher anxiety regarding mathematics.
Similarly, the results supported the stereotype held about girls that they have low self-concept and self-efficacy. Thus, by priming them with stereotypes regarding them, they got anxious and could not see themselves as capable to deal with simple mathematical problems. Rather, they got anxious and thus could not perform to the expectation.
On the contrary, those that watched the BBC’s nature clip performed averagely well. This can be attributable to the fact that, their self-efficacy was not affected and could handle the problem without any anxieties. OECD (2004) also reported such results that lack anxiety, high self-efficacy, and self-concept in Poland and Italy.
This study results have also differed with that conducted by Ambady et al. (2003). Their study revealed that as soon as it is initiated, the path of maladaptive, stereotype-congruent conduct as a result of stereotyping can be averted. On the contrary, this study has revealed that stereotype primed individuals performed worse off than their nature primed counterparts.
Most possibly, this occurred because the gender stereotype primed individuals were unable to disassociate themselves with the female category and thus there was a possibility of stereotype approval being more intimidating (Balian, 1988).
However, it is expected that the participants would have developed mechanisms to cope with the negative stereotype activation. As past research points out, there is more than one way to do this. This would include the following. First, as suggested by Steele (1997), making the stereotype irrelevant by misidentifying with it can help.
Secondly, indulging other salient identities the can alter the self-importance of a stereotype as well as individual’s response to it as revealed by Stapel, Koomen and Spears, (1999). Thirdly, disregarding group based identity and bearing in mind a more individualistic perspective (Turner and Onorato, 1999).
Considering these researches in mind, if the salience of group identity in this case “females” is substituted with the salience of personal identity, the risks affiliated with negative stereotype priming could be reduced and performance changed to be illustrative of an individual’s capacity and not the group to which they belong.
Thus, this study has demonstrated that such abilities of individuals distancing themselves with stereotypes associated with groups to which they belong are utterly impossible. Furthermore, the media representation of females in a gender stereotype actually affects their performance. This may be because most of the 2nd year females might have grown watching such Disney movies as the little Mermaid.
From the above research findings, it can be concluded that actually activating implicit gender stereotypes in female had a negative effect on their performance in mathematics. Furthermore, the females in this study were unable to employ the mechanisms as have been pointed out by other scholars that can be useful in reducing the negative effects of implicit stereotyping.
This also illustrates that actually media representation of females could have negative effects on their performance. In addition, females primed with gender stereotypes can perform poorly in mathematics.
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