Women in the Math and Sciences: Counteracting the Impact of Negative Group Stereotypes on Performance

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Stereotype threat (ST) occurs when the awareness of a negative stereotype about a social group in a particular domain reduces the quality of performance exhibited by group members (Steele, 1997). For instance, when negative stereotypes are activated, African-Americans perform worse on tests described as assessing intelligence (Steele & Aronson, 1995) and women perform worse in math (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). This project (a) examines how ST undermines women’s mathematical performance and expression of math proficiency in education situations and (b) employs laboratory and education-based interventions designed to alleviate the deleterious impact of negative group stereotypes.


This research is set in universities and high schools.

Research Design: 

This project employs longitudinal, cross-sectional, and comparative data analysis designed to generate causal evidence. Several laboratory studies will be conducted to examine the cognitive mechanisms by which ST harms academic performance and to explore interventions designed to alleviate ST. The PI will then implement procedures tested in the laboratory in high-school and college classroom settings. One experiment evaluates how writing about one’s worries before a math test can improve performance for women and minorities by limiting WM-depleting ruminations. A second experiment explores how providing students with prominent women in math exemplars prior to a math test will impact stigmatized group performance. Finally, a third experiment creates an intervention, an online website devoted to women in math. This experiment examines, over a 4-year period, the impact that regular visits to the website have on college women’s pursuit of STEM education. Data will be analyzed to ascertain whether significant differences in performance (e.g., school tests, math performance) between treatment and control groups occur. School records/policy documents, learning assessments, web logs, paper and pencil questionnaires, and standard statistical procedures (e.g., GLM) will be used in these analyses.


Please see project citations below to learn about project findings.

Publications & Presentations: 

Ramirez, G., & Beilock, S. (2011). Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom. Science, 331, 211-213.

Beilock, S. (2010). Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Rydell, B. J., McConnell, A. R., & Beilock, S. L. (2009). Multiple social identities and stereotype threat: Imbalance, accessibility, and working memory. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 96, 949-966.

Beilock, S. L. (2008). Math performance in stressful situations. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 339-343.

Ramirez, G., & Beilock, S.L. (2008). The "writing cure” as a solution to choking under pressure in math. Abstract of the Psychonomic Society Annual Meeting. Chicago, IL.

Other Products: 

A website will be developed to provide teacher resources stemming from the project findings.