Stereotype threat is one means by which stereotypes can become self-fulfilling. Stereotype threat occurs when a person performs less well in a task because they believe that the social group they belong to is not expected to do well. Notions that men and boys have greater academic ability are rarely explicitly articulated. Instead, cultural portrayals of (e.g., 'boys will be boys') may work to hinder boys' performance in academic settings. In this research project, Professor Robbie Sutton and Bonny Hartley examine boys' stereotypes about academic underperformance. The findings from this research have important implications for policy makers and educators.
Stereotype threat is one means by which stereotypes can become self-fulfilling. Stereotype threat occurs when a person performs less well in a task because they believe that the social group they belong to is not expected to do well. For example, when White students are confronted with the idea that Asian students tend to do better in mathematics, White students’ performance is reduced because of stereotype threat.
In such a situation, individuals are faced with the threat of confirming a negative stereotype about their group and being seen or treated in terms of that stereotype. Acute exposure to stereotype threat can affect performance by causing rumination and anxiety, whereas chronic exposure can lead individuals to disengage with a performance domain to protect their self-esteem (Steele & Aronson, 1995).
Gender stereotypes usually define men and boys as competent and dominant, but also more aggressive, less disciplined and conscientious than women and girls (Rudman & Glick, 1999). However, notions that men and boys have greater academic ability are rarely explicitly articulated. Instead, cultural portrayals of (e.g., ‘boys will be boys’) may work to hinder boys’ performance in academic settings (stereotype threat). Professor Robbie Sutton and Bonny Hartley examine boys’ stereotypes about academic underperformance.
• To examine whether and when children acquire the stereotype that boys are academically inferior to girls.
• To examine whether and when children perceive that adults also endorse this stereotype.
• To examine whether it is possible to nullify these stereotypes and improve boys’ performance
• Nullifying stereotypes: by informing boys and girls they can do equally well.
Programme and methodology
• 238 British school children were recruited from schools in England
• Children ranged from 4-5yrs (foundation stage) – 9-10yrs (up to year 5)
• Children were shown A4 cards that depicted different picture stories
• Half showed a child (no gender) with good conduct and achievement, and half of which displayed a child with poor conduct and achievement.
• On the reverse of each card was a male and female silhouette represented in black against a white background
• Children selected the ‘appropriate’ by selecting one of the two silhouettes
• Children were also asked about what adults think (Aim 2)
• 160 children were given an attainment test to complete.
• The attainment test had a different set of instructions for half of the children
• Half of the children read that ‘girls do better than boys in the test’ (stereotype threat)
• The other half of the children read ‘we just want to see how you do on this test’
• Children’s performance was recorded for reading, writing and maths
• 184 children took part
•Children were given a test of numeracy and literacy
• Half of the children read ‘We’re looking at how well children do on this test and we expect that boys and girls will do the same’
• Other half read ‘We’re looking at how well children do on this test and we just want to see how you do’
Some key findings
- Study 1 showed that girls from age 4 and boys from age 7 believed, and thought adults believed, that boys are academically inferior to girls.
- In Study 2 informing the children that boys tend to do worse than girls at school hindered boys’ performance on the test, but did not affect girls’.
- In Study 3 informing the children that boys and girls were expected to perform similarly improved the performance of boys and did not affect that of girls.
Important implications for policy makers and educators.
• Highlights that differences in achievement is the result of stereotypes and not biological differences.
• Offers suggestions for educators: classes should not be gendered (boys vs girls)
• Offers suggestions for policy makers and educators: institutions should adopt mixed ability tables and classes
New and important contributions to research
• Stereotype threat, gender stereotyping, and boys’ underachievement