It’s no secret that girls are bad at math. Oh wait — nope, that’s a lie.
What does seem to be a secret, though, is that girls are just as good at math as boys are — and now we have yet another study that helps prove the point.
A recent analysis suggests that women who use an alias while taking a math exam, regardless of whether that alias is male or female, perform better than the control group who did not use an alias.
The author of the paper, Shen Zhang of the University of Wisconsin, recruited 110 undergraduate women and 72 undergraduate men to take a 30 question math test.
Prior to the test, and in an effort to instill the stereotype threat, all participants were told that men typically outperform women at math. Some of the volunteers were told to write the test under their real name, but some were told to complete the test under one of four different aliases, either Jacob Tyler, Scott Lyons, Jessica Peterson, or Kaitlyn Woods.
When the results were in, men outperformed the women. Thank you, self-reputational threat.
But women who assumed an alias, whether it be male or female, performed better than the women who did not. And — importantly — they did just as well as the men.
Weird, right? What’s going on here?
There is this thing called the stereotype threat, which basically means that if you know about a stereotype — like girls are bad at math, for example — you’re likely to conform to that stereotype. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.
There is also something called the self-reputational threat, which is what this study is trying to find a way to overcome.
The self-reputational threat is related to the stereotype threat; it’s the fear some women have of fulfilling the stereotype, thus proving that stereotype true.
The researchers concluded that the study’s findings suggest that poor performance by women on math tests can be due to the self-reputational threat. They also suggest some steps that can be taken to mitigate this threat, such as non-name identification procedures for exams.
In case you were wondering, this is far from the only study that says women as a group have the same potential to be mathletes as men.
In 2011, an analysis of huge amounts of data from across the world further established the notion that girls’ low performance in math is related to social and cultural factors, not any biological difference. A 2006 study also showed that the stereotype threat does indeed have an effect on girls’ math scores.
So what to take from this? It seems like if we just stop telling girls that they are bad at math, they will not be bad at math.
Maybe we should start doing that, then.
Image credit: Flickr