In my previous blog entry (Smith,
2013), theories derived from social psychology were assessed as means to
reduce the stigmas surrounding mental healthcare and increase the likelihood
that those in need of care will look for it. Specifically, the changing of
stereotyped attitudes towards those with mental health issues was discussed. But
the application of these stereotype reducing practices to other areas, like those
surrounding gender diversity, can be just as significant. To understand how theories from social
psychology can be used to reduce stereotypes this entry will look at how girls
have been stereotyped at being bad at math and the ways that these stereotypes
can be changed.
(Image courtesy of xkcd.com)
While some people may laugh at the above comic, what it
represents is a clear case of gender stereotyping. Gender in this case refers
to the "social or learned characteristics that are associated with being male
or female" and a bias resulting from gender stereotyping is commonly referred
to as sexism (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). In this case, the statement
"girls suck at math" in the comic is a perfect example of negative sexism and
is one way in which this bias can be acted upon. Like many stereotypes, this
bias is not founded on any actual fact.
Focused attention on reducing the gender gap in performance
on tests measuring mathematical abilities has resulted in girls achieving
nearly similar scores to boys (Siegler, DeLoache, & Eisenberg, 2011, p. 609). This research helps
to show that the commonly held belief that girls are bad at math is simply not
true. Unfortunately, these stereotypes
are often held not only by peers, but by the parents and teachers that have a
direct impact on the development of the girl and her attitude towards math (Gunderson, Ramirez, Levine, & Beilock, 2012).
These stereotypes are then transmitted to the girl from the
parents and teachers who may then assimilate them to her own world view. Once
these stereotypes are accepted, girls have been shown to fall victim to the
problem of stereotype threats (Shapiro & Williams, 2012; Tomasetto,
Alparone, & Cadino, 2011). When this happens the fear that a behavior will verify
the stereotype leads to nervousness which may in turn lead to distraction and acting
out the stereotype, even if the person would not normally act in such a way. In
the example stereotype of girls being bad at math, a girl fearing that she may
do poorly on a math test and verify the stereotype of girls being bad at math
may show decreased performance due to the anxiety from the fear even if she
normally is mathematically competent.
In order to prevent the stereotype threat from having such a
profound effect specific interventions have been developed. Gender equity
training that targets specific classroom behavior for teachers can be used to
help reduce these gender stereotypes (Jones, Evans, Byrd, & Campbell, 2000). Or interventions
which blur intergroup boundaries and focused on shared gender characteristics have
been shown to reduce stereotype threats (Rosenthal & Crisp, 2006).
(Image courtesy of FemChat
In summary, social psychological theories can be used to
understand stereotypes and the biases derived from them. The specific gender bias
of girls being bad at math was looked at through this psychological lens. A
potential source of the problems relating to this bias, stereotypes threats, as
well as the source of the perpetuation of these stereotypes, parents and
teachers, was explained using social psychological concepts. Interventions were
then developed to target the source of the bias in order to prevent the negative
outcomes associated with this stereotype from continuing. Hopefully the
implementation of these interventions will result in a change in girls' attitudes
towards their mathematical abilities and their true potential can be realized.
Gunderson, E. A., Ramirez, G., Levine, S. C., &
Beilock, S. L. (2012). The Role of Parents and Teachers in the Development of
Gender-Related Math Attitudes. Sex Roles, 66(3-4), 153-166.
Jones, K., Evans, C., Byrd, R., & Campbell, K.
(2000). Gender equity. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 27,
Rosenthal, H. E., & Crisp, R. J. (2006). Reducing
Stereotype Threat by Blurring Intergroup Boundaries. Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin, 32(4), 501-511.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M.
(Eds.). (2012). Applied Social Psychology (2 ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Shapiro, J. R., & Williams, A. M. (2012). The
Role of Stereotype Threats in Undermining Girls' and Women's Performance and
Interest in STEM Fields. Sex Roles, 66(3-4), 175-183.
Siegler, R., DeLoache, J., & Eisenberg, N.
(2011). How Children Develop (3 ed.). Worth Publishers: New York.
Smith, I. P. (2013, February 12). Changing the
stigmas that surround mental health care. Retrieved from Applied Social
Tomasetto, C., Alparone, F. R., & Cadinu, M.
(2011). Girls' math performance under stereotype threat: The moderating role
of mothers' gender stereotypes. Developmental Psychology, 47(4),