Creating a critical mass eliminates the effects of stereotype threat on women's mathematical performance


BACKGROUND: Women in mathematical domains may become attuned to situational cues that signal a discredited social identity, contributing to their lower achievement and underrepresentation. AIM: This study examined whether heightened in-group representation alleviates the effects of stereotype threat on women's mathematical performance. It further investigated whether single-sex testing environments and stereotype threat influenced participants to believe that their ability was fixed (fixed mindset) rather than a trait that could be developed (growth mindset). SAMPLE AND METHOD: One hundred and forty-four female participants were assigned randomly to a self-as-target or group-as-target stereotype threat condition or to a control condition. They completed a modular arithmetic maths test and a mindset questionnaire either alone or in same-sex groups of 3-5 individuals. RESULTS: Participants solved fewer mathematical problems under self-as-target and group-as-target stereotype threat when they were tested alone, but these performance deficits were eliminated when they were tested in single-sex groups. Participants reported a weaker growth mindset when they were tested under stereotype threat and in single-sex groups. Moreover, evidence of inconsistent mediation indicated that single-sex testing environments negatively predicted mindset but positively predicted mathematical performance. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that single-sex testing environments may represent a practical intervention to alleviate stereotype threat effects but may have a paradoxical effect on mindset.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Health & Life Sciences > School of Psychology
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Pennington, C.R. and Heim, D. (2016), Creating a critical mass eliminates the effects of stereotype threat on women's mathematical performance. Br J Educ Psychol, 86: 353-368, which has been published in final form at  This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
Publication ISSN: 2044-8279
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2024 08:05
Date Deposited: 13 May 2020 08:05
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Related URLs: https://onlinel ... 1111/bjep.12110 (Publisher URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2016-09-01
Published Online Date: 2016-03-27
Accepted Date: 2016-01-13
Authors: Pennington, Charlotte (ORCID Profile 0000-0002-5259-642X)
Heim, Derek



Version: Accepted Version

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