The Effects of Stereotype Threat on Test Performance of Male and Female College Students

Article excerpt

Past research suggests that awareness of negative stereotypes about the intellectual inferiority of one's "in-group" can undermine performance on academic tasks, especially among subjects who are strongly identified with the academic domain or highly invested in the academic task. This study included 72 students (n = 42 women, n = 30 men) and examined the effects of stereotype threat on test scores of students. It was hypothesized that students exposed to stereotypes predicting underperformance on the Psychology Major Test for their genders would score lower than students not exposed to these negative stereotypes. A 2 (gender) X 2 (stereotype threat condition) analysis of variance yielded significant interaction effects indicating that men in stereotype threat conditions outscored men in non-stereotype threat conditions. Given that most students experienced low domain identification with males being the least domain identified, the negative effects of stereotype threat were not observed.


When academic achievement has been measured by high-stakes standardized tests, factors including grade point average, class rank, test preparation, test-taking strategies and academic preparedness have been discussed as possible predictors of individual performance on these tests. The issue of test bias has also been discussed as a possible predictor of differential group performance on standardized test scores, especially in instances where background characteristics have been controlled for and group differences in scores have persisted along racial and gender lines (Suzuki, Ponterotto, & Meller, 2000). Further insight into the persistence of group differences in standardized test performance can be gained from a review of stereotype threat studies. These studies have investigated predictors of underperformance for stigmatized groups and found that testing situations, by becoming more anxiety provoking for certain students based on their race, class, and gender, could impede performance (Aronson & Salinas, 1997; Steele, 1997; Aronson, Lustina, Good, Keough, Brown, & Steele, 1999; Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev, 2000; Leyens, Desert, Croizet, and Darcis, 2000; Gonzales, Blanton, & Williams, 2002) Stereotypes can be positive, negative, or neutral beliefs about people based on their group membership and when related to academic achievement, these stereotypes often categorize European-Americans and Asian-Americans as more achievement oriented as compared to African-Americans (Nieman, Jennings, Rozelle, Baxter, Sullivan, 1994), high SES students as more academically advanced as compared to low SES students (Croizet & Claire, 1998), and men as more skilled in math as compared to women (Shih, Pittinsky, & Ambady, 1999).

According to Steele and Aronson (1995) negative stereotypes about one's in-group could produce a type of "stereotype threat" whereby one may feel pressure not to conform to given stereotypes, with this pressure then being seen to impede one's performance on certain tasks. Furthermore, Marx, Brown, and Steele (1999) suggest that stereotype threat could especially influence academic outcomes for groups of people who are strongly identified with an academic domain (concerned about performing well in a given content area) and negatively stereotyped in the same academic domain. The mix of these two conditions are expected to produce significant anxiety during the context of an academic performance that shifts attention away from the task.


This study investigated the effects of stereotype threat on test performance of male and female college students. Specifically, it was hypothesized that students who were exposed to stereotypes predicting underperformance for their genders, would score lower on an achievement test as compared to similar ability peers not exposed to these stereotypes. Stereotype threat was expected to exert the least influence on the scores of non-majors (less domain identified) and the most influence on the scores of psychology majors (more domain identified). …