The Role of Stereotype Threats in Undermining Girls’ and Women’s Performance and Interest in STEM fields

stereotypeBy Sadia Ghazi

So there are a lot of negative stereotypes about women’s performance in science, technology, engineering,and math (STEM) fields. Jenessa R. Shapiro and Amy M. Williams address in their study what stereotype threat is, the effects that it has, and how it can be used to change.

As Shapiro and Williams explain, “stereotype threat is a concern or anxiety that one’s performance or action can be seen through the lens of a negative stereotype, a concern that disrupts and undermines performance in negatively stereotyped domains”. As an experiment, conducted by Shih et al. in 1999, Asian women were placed inside a situational nature of stereotype threat. Before completing a math test, a group of these women were asked about theirgender, another group was asked about their race, and then there was a control group. The group that was asked about their gender performed worse than the control group; the group that was asked about their race performed better than the control group.

So when participants were aware of their gender their performance was worse due to the presumed stereotype of how well they were supposed to perform on the task. A few implications of interventions are self-affirmation, presentation of role models, and teaching about the phenomenon of stereotype threat.

The presentation of role models is important because seeing another individual who was similar to themselves and who disconfirmed the stereotype about female math ability served to buffer the female students from stereotype threat effects. Last, teaching about this phenomenon allows people to be aware of what’s going on.

There are two different types of stereotype threats: self-as-source stereotype threats and other-as-source stereotype threats. Self-as-source stereotype threat is explained as when “one’s performance has the possibility of confirming, in one’s own mind, that the stereotype is true” (p. 179). Other-as-source stereotype threat is explained as someone else’s performance confirming the stereotype. It’s important to notice both of these because it shows destructive stereotypes are for young girls and woman who are aspiring to go into STEM.

Sadia Ghazi is a Wayne State University honors student majoring in psychology; she is also debating in the Wayne State Debate Team. In the Wikid GRRLS project she teaches middle school girls online skills in Detroit Public Schools this semester.


Shapiro, Jenessa R., & Amy M. Williams. (2012). The role of stereotype threats in undermining girls’ andwomen’s performance and interest in STEM fields. Sex Roles, (66)3, 175-183.

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