Threat level midnight: stereotype threat's negative impact on women's career and major choices
While women have closed the gender gap in many science and engineering fields, math-intensive fields continue to lack representation of women. One potential cause is stereotype threat. Previous research has shown that the presentation of negative stereotypes regarding women and math can negatively influence women’s math performance and intent to pursue math-related careers. The present research further examined the impact of stereotype threat on women in regards to mathematics performance, major and career choice, and intentions to seek tutoring. The study builds on previous research by manipulating stereotype threat both explicitly and implicitly. In addition, the moderating role of stigma consciousness (awareness of stereotypes) and feedback post-math-performance was examined. It was expected that women’s math performance and likelihood of pursuing a math-related major and/or career would decrease when presented with stereotypes both explicitly and implicitly. It was also expected that stigma consciousness and negative feedback would strengthen the negative effect of stereotype threat for women. Participants consisted of 116 female undergraduate students from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: explicit stereotype threat, implicit stereotype threat, or low threat. Following manipulation of stereotype threat, participants completed a math test and were given randomly assigned feedback (either positive or negative). Finally, participants filled out questionnaires regarding their level of awareness of stigmas related to them, their comfort in pursuing a major and/or career in a math-intensive field, and their intentions to seek math-related tutoring. In the present research, stereotype threat did not impact math performance, choosing a math-intensive major, or tutoring. Stereotype threat did negatively impact women’s comfort in choosing a math-intensive career. When presented with an implicit and explicit stereotype threat, women reported low levels of comfort towards choosing a math-intensive career. However, stigma consciousness and negative feedback did not intensify the effect. The current study’s findings were inconsistent with literature showing how stereotype threat negatively impacts women’s math performance. However, they were consistent with research demonstrating the negative impact stereotype threat can have in terms of women’s career-related choices. Results from this study have implications for women intending to pursue a life in a mathintensive field, grade school educators, and college educators. Understanding how stereotypes and negative feedback can affect women and deter them from pursuing a career or major in a math-intensive field, is one step in solving the issue.