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A Stereotype Threat Account of Boys' Academic Underachievement


  • This research was supported by an Economic and Social Research Council 1+3 Open Competition Studentship awarded to Bonny Hartley. The authors are grateful to the head teachers, teachers, children, and parents who were involved in this research. Also, the authors thank Karen Douglas for her invaluable comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Bonny Hartley, School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK, or to Robbie Sutton, School of Psychology, Keynes College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NP, UK. Electronic mail may be sent to or


Three studies examined the role of stereotype threat in boys' academic underachievement. Study 1 (children aged 4–10, = 238) showed that girls from age 4 years and boys from age 7 years believed, and thought adults believed, that boys are academically inferior to girls. Study 2 manipulated stereotype threat, informing children aged 7–8 years (= 162) that boys tend to do worse than girls at school. This manipulation hindered boys' performance on a reading, writing, and math test, but did not affect girls' performance. Study 3 counteracted stereotype threat, informing children aged 6–9 years (= 184) that boys and girls were expected to perform similarly. This improved the performance of boys and did not affect that of girls.