Stereotype Threat and Women's Performance in Engineering

Authors

  • AMY E. BELL,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Virginia Tech
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    • Amy E. Bell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. She received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. Bell conducts research in wavelet image compression, embedded systems, and bioinformatics. She is the recipient of a 1999 National Science Foundation CAREER award, a 2002 National Science Foundation Information Technology Research award, and two awards for teaching excellence.

  • STEVEN J. SPENCER,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology University of Waterloo
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    • Steve Spencer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo. He has conducted numerous studies on the effect of stereotype threat on women's math performance.

  • EMMA ISERMAN,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology University of Waterloo
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    • Emma Iserman is a graduate student at the University of Waterloo.

  • CHRISTINE E.R. LOGEL

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology University of Waterloo
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    • Christine E.R. Logel is a graduate student at the University of Waterloo.


340 Whittemore Hall, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061-0111; telephone: 540-231-2940; fax: 540-231-8292; e-mail: abell@vt.edu.

200 University Avenue West, Psychology Department, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1; e-mail: sspencer@watarts.uwaterloo.ca.

200 University Avenue West, Psychology Department, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1; e-mail: eciserma@watarts.uwaterloo.ca.

200 University Avenue West, Psychology Department, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1; e-mail: c3robins@watarts.uwaterloo.ca.

Abstract

Recent research has demonstrated that stereotype threat—the concern that others will judge one negatively due to a stereotype that exists about one's group—interferes with women's performance on standardized math and engineering exams. In the current research we find that when a shortened version of the Fundamental of Engineering Exam is described as a test that is diagnostic of ability (i.e., when stereotype threat is high) women perform worse than men on the test. When stereotype threat is reduced, however (by characterizing the test as non-diagnostic or as not producing gender differences), women do just as well as men. The implication of these results for improving the engineering education environment is discussed.

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