Looking for reliable information? (or: Women and Maths)

The Pew Research Center is a fantastic source of data on every topic imaginable, and according to Russel Brown (a journalist for the NZ Listener), this is a reputable establishment. It describes itself as ‘a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does so by conducting public opinion polling and social science research; by reporting news and analyzing news coverage; and by holding forums and briefings.’ There is something for everyone (except that women might struggle to interpret the numbers). Here's a study that caught my attention:

Women Can't Do Math...Or Can They?
by Richard MorinPew Research CenterAugust 31, 2006

Strange but true: Women score much lower on math tests if they are first asked unrelated questions about gender issues. The phenomenon is known as "stereotype threat" -- a kind of performance anxiety discovered in 1995 when psychologists found that black students at Stanford University did significantly worse on intelligence tests if they were first asked to identify their race on the test form.

Since then, dozens of other experiments have confirmed that subtly cuing women, minorities and other stigmatized groups to think subconsciously about their gender or race causes them do poorly in areas where the general stereotype suggests they are weak.

University of Texas psychologist Matthew S. McGlone wondered if there wasn't another side of the story. What if you prompted people to think about their strengths rather than their stereotypical weaknesses -- would that be enough to improve performance in areas where they weren't supposed to do well?

In a novel set of experiments, McGlone, working with Joshua Aronson of New York University, found that the answer is yes. "The idea that something is immutable due to some biological factor can be trumped," McGlone said.


Paul said...

Liezl relly wants me to make a comment on this thread, but I'm not quite sure what to say. That's never stopped me before, however.

Let me get this right. Women can actually do math, but perform worse on math tests because they are stereotypically worse at math? (Put aside the question of where the stereotype came from in the first place.) And we are also to believe that the effect of this stereotyping can be negated by pointing out to a woman her strengths before she takes one of these tests, or before she performs some math task?

How is that supposed to work? "Honey, could you please help John with his math homework. Oh, and don't forget, you are very good at baking biskuit." Or "DeShawnda, here's an I.Q test. Oh, by the way, have I ever told you how much I admire Rosa Parks, Oprah Whinfrey and the Williams sisters?"

nico said...

Another article on the mental differences between men and women here:


Suzy said...

I'm not sure what to make of this either. Looks like women have been playing dumb all along, without being aware of it. Whhat's worse: being dumb or playing dumb?

liezl said...

Playing dumb IS being dumb.

I read somewhere (Levitt's 'Freakonomics', I think) that one thing that holds African Americans back is their fear of being seen as 'acting white'. So women might well be doing the same thing (Arguably, NOT playing dumb is dumb, at least if you're looking for a date). This study made it look like this is a behaviour found in women and blacks, but surely white men are also guilty of (deliberately or unconsciously) underperforming in certain ways in order to the stereotype?

iv said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
iv said...

I read a humorous article in the Guardian a few weeks ago featuring the growth of sperm from stem cells.

I thought the description of how men and women behave according to their evolution from a universal gamete into the current egg and sperm to be
quite entertaining.