In a field study in the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, women at the high end of math ability outperform their male counterparts on tests when the test is described as free of gender differences. The women performed as well as their male counterparts under normal testing conditions. The study, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, was conducted by Catherine Good, assistant professor of psychology, Baruch College, CUNY, and Joshua Aronson, professor of psychology, New York University.
Considerable research over the past decade has shown that women’s performances on math tests are compromised by stereotypes. In over 200 published experiments, females as young as first graders and as old as 22 have been found to perform worse on math tests whenever the testing environment cues them to think about their gender, a phenomenon named “stereotype threat” by the psychologists Claude Steele and Aronson in the mid 1990s.
“This research has always carried the positive message that stereotype threat could be overcome-and women’s test performance boosted-by small changes in the way tests were presented,” says Aronson, a professor of psychology at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “But critics of this research frequently tried to trivialize these findings by claiming that they were merely laboratory studies that said little about performance in the ‘real world,’ or that we weren’t talking about highly proficient mathematicians, who were immune to ster
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