What can be done to reduce stereotype threat?

What can be done to reduce stereotype threat?

Beliefs about the nature of ability influences a host of variables including motivation and achievement in the face of challenge or difficulty. Some individuals tend to believe that intelligence is fixed, not changing over time or across contexts (an “entity theory”). Because they believe that ability is fixed, entity theorists are highly concerned with messages and outcomes that supposedly reflect their “true” abilities (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Dweck & Sorich, 1999). When facing challenges, entity theorists tend to demonstrate lowered focus and task avoidance. Others tend to view intelligence as a quality that can be developed and that it changes across contexts or over time (an “incremental theory”). Incremental theorists tend to be more focused on improving rather than proving ability to themselves or others (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). When facing challenge, incremental theorists are likely to increase effort to further learning and to overcome obstacles (Dweck & Sorich, 1999; Mueller & Dweck 1998). Although many studies have treated implicit theories of ability as individual difference variables, studies have shown that these beliefs themselves can be altered (at least on a short-term basis) by modifying how abilities are described and the specific nature of praise (e.g., by praising effort rather than ability).

The whole page is useful and relevant, but I’ll focus on that passage. A cherished trope of the anti-feminism faction is to insist, with more or less affectation of honest looking facts in the face, that the sexes really are different, and talking endlessly about the putative differences is just being scientific. Therefore…we just hafta say that women are not as logical or rational or intelligent or assertive as men, because it’s true, dude.

They’re all entity theorists.


  1. says

    Muller & Dweck is a good read, praising effort is something to learn as a parent. In my childhood it was always seen as bad if you were ‘trying’ to do well. Either you were good at it or you were not, and in my experience this was often to the boys detriment as girls were laughed at for working hard. Of course that is not to say that parents, siblings etc saying to a girl that is having trouble with her maths, a la xkcd above, that she is just not naturally good at it is not going to be damaging as well. Probably a lot of the reason why women in STEM are under-represented, “it’s a Guy Thing” and they are told that if they don’t get it immediately…

  2. theobromine says

    At a humanist convention a few years ago, I had a brief conversation with a man who asserted that since there were clearly differences between men and women, differential treatment of people according to gender was a reasonable rationalist/humanist approach. I pointed out to him that, even if we put aside nature vs nurture considerations, for just about every measure or characteristic one could think of, the differences within the group (ie among individual men or women) far outweighed the difference between the average representative of each group. I found it surprising when he said that he had never heard this argument before, and said that it had given him pause to think about whether he should change his views.

  3. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    women are not as logical or rational or intelligent or assertive as men

    . People who say that actually mean that compared statistically as a group women on average are not as logical or rational or intelligent or assertive as men as a group on average. Even if that’s true, many women will be more logical or rational or intelligent or assertive than many men. Furthermore, it says nothing about why such a difference exists, if it exists. If people believe women lack these qualities they will discourage them from exhibiting them and will disregard or downplay them if they do so that their beliefs will tendto become self-fulfilling.
    If women really were not as logical or rational or intelligent or assertive as men then people who believe it wouldn’t need to say it so often or so loudly.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    To put #3 a different way:

    Just because men, on average, tend to have more upper-body strength than women does not mean I should expect to challenge Venus Williams to an arm-wrestling contest and have any chance of winning.

    Or still a different way…

    Even if we accept it as true that, say, men on average are better at math than women on average, and even if it was true that this difference was genetic instead of cultural — STILL, the bell curve distribution of skills would be such that the odds that any specific boy would be better than any specific girl would be a scarcely detectable increase over 50%.

    You’d think that people who were supposed to be good at math would be able to figure that out.

  5. smrnda says

    First, when someone says something like ‘men are better, on average, than women at maths’ I keep thinking that ‘average at maths,’ for the population as a whole would likely be pretty bad. I mean, what % of people out there are competent with basic statistics? With calculus?

    On the intelligence is fixed versus can be developed, I recall a number of people I met who got high standardized test scores, became convinced they were geniuses, and who then spent the rest of their lives avoiding any activity that might put their abilities to the test. It’s a bit sad to run into a 60 year old man who has accomplished very little, but who still feels he’s a genius because of his SAT scores.

    This kind of thinking actually affected me for a while. I’d always breezed through mathematics courses, and once I hit upper level courses in college it was no longer happening. What I realized was that, eventually, you reach a point where nobody is a natural, and where hard work is necessary for everybody. I wish that I hadn’t been sold on the idea of being ‘gifted’ and that being ‘gifted’ meant ‘gets good grades or test scores with little effort’ because it almost led me to drop out of mathematics.

  6. says

    Rousseau already tackled the question of natural versus social inequality. Even if we were to find there were natural inequalities between the sexes, we deal with them socially where they affect society. And, other than a few ideologues, it seems acceptable in general. For example, the Americans With Disabilities Act is a social response to a natural inequality – we are not trying to claim that someone who is disabled is, in fact, equal in terms of some abilities – but society is trying to reduce the unfairness of the natural inequality because that’s what “society” does.

  7. Stacy says

    There is a fellow claiming he did a wide-ranging study that found women in various countries outperforming men on IQ tests (slightly) for the first time. John Flynn. But he hasn’t published yet; I don’t quite trust them when they publicize before they publish.

    If it holds up, it will be evidence (as if more were needed) that IQ is affected by social conditions. And though “IQ” shouldn’t be taken too seriously, it would be fun to wave the new scores in the faces of the “realists” who like to claim that us politically incorrect types just refuse to admit that IQ scores are evidence that there are immutable intelligence differences between the races and sexes, and THEY (white, and maybe asian, men) always come out on top.

  8. says

    Historically there have been some brilliant female mahtematicians; Emmy Noether and Hanna Neumann come immediately to mind. Today there women such as Cheryl Praeger; she was a fellow graduate student in the early 70’s and meeting her was the first time I had to admit there were people more intelligent than me (I was an arrogant sod at the time!) See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheryl_Praeger

  9. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    You’d think that people who were supposed to be good at math would be able to figure that out.

    Well, no, Brucegee: people who are good at maths-or have any other skill- often can’t use their skills consistently or in all circumstances.

    Stacy@11: in the 1950s in the UK children went to different kinds of secondary schools depending on how well they did atan exam known as the 11+, which involved a strong IQ test element. Girls persistently did better than boys- so much so that the two sexes had to be selected separately, especially as there were more grammar school places-where peole who ‘passed’ the 11+ went- for boys than girls.

    The British psychologist Liam Hudson- like all psychology students at Cambridge when he went there- had to do an IQ test when he arrived. Many years later he looked at the results. He found that the only thing that correlated stroingly with doing well at IQ tests was whether people thought IQ tests were accurate measures of intelligence.

  10. Robert Bauer says

    Absolutely. Where I teach, we are actually not allowed to call our students smart or praise their native ability, because it invokes what the quoted passage calls an “entity theory” and leads to exactly the sort of challenge-avoiding behavior described above. We praise hard work, good mathematical thinking, and specific accomplishments – all things the student can control.

    It works, too. Confidence, diligence, a stable environment, and good instruction matter much, much more than the differences between individuals, anyway.

  11. Martha says

    I’m so happy to know that I’m an incremental theorist rather than an entity theorist! The latter sounds like I make up implausible creatures for Star Trek movies, while the former implies more patience than is sometimes attributed to me.

    More seriously, it bothers me a lot, this bias we have as a society that we’re either good at something or we’re not. Just this summer, I told my young nephew that, sometimes, you just have to bust your ass at something, and then you get to be good at it. I actually think he’s come to understand this through subsequent experience. I wish some of his elders would do the same.

    @machintelligence (#1) Thanks for the link!

  12. Suido says

    Theo Bromine, good grief – he’d never heard it before!

    That’s staggering.

    Not to me. My initial reaction to this post was, ‘education and awareness, obviously.’ Beyond the college educated/activist bubbles, there are so many people who don’t know about/understand feminism 101. As a person who ticks practically every privilege box there is, I only learned about privilege and feminism via internet forums, which in the last year or so has been FTB. If I hadn’t been actively choosing to visit these sites and read, I’d still be completely oblivious.

  13. Russell says

    Wow. Another ignorant attack on sex-IQ research (and, in the comments, ignorant attacks on IQ). And then you have the gall to call this blog “fighting fashionable nonsense.”

    Anyone interested in data on the validity of IQ is advised to read http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/1997whygmatters.pdf
    and anyone who wants a good overview of sex-differences research can read

    For a good and well-informed (as opposed to knee-jerk) rebuttal, check out Flynn’s new book, ‘Are we getting smarter?’


  14. Russell says

    Stacy, Jim Flynn claimed no such thing, only that men and women were equal––NOT that men slightly outperformed women. And no, phenotypic evidence (about racial differences in ‘g’) does not prove genotypic facts (that said differences are innate). What does provide evidence for the genetic roots of race differences is their persistence across different cultural settings and time periods (even among black teenagers adopted in infancy into middle-class white families!); and the failure of environmental explanations like stereotype threat (d is no greater than 0.4, that is, 40% of the black-white gap in the US, and much of that may be a cause of publication bias).

  15. Russell says

    Apologies–-that ([the claim is that] women outperformed men, not the other way around) was what I meant. And Flynn has claimed this is a misrepresentation of what he actually said.

  16. Stacy says

    Yeah, reading between the lines of the sloppy reportage, it sounds like women have caught up to men for the first time, and are scoring equal to men. The fact that in a few instances they outscored men by half a point or so isn’t likely to be statistically meaningful, but people picked up on it.

  17. Russell says

    The “entity theorist” straw man (although you were quoting someone else) is false. No one denies that across cultures and times, both to environmental and genetic (cyclical eugenic/dysgenic selection) factors, levels of ‘g’ can change. You also imply that the notion of sex differences in ‘g’ is irrational and has no supporting evidence, which is false.

  18. says

    As you say, I was quoting someone else. Thus it makes no sense to shout at me for what I call my blog.

    It’s ridiculous to say “no one denies” when 1. you can’t possibly know that and 2. yes some people do.

  19. Russell says

    Okay, *very few informed people* deny that. And you were quoting them with approval. Perhaps I was too harsh in my original comment, for which I apologize.

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