This was originally posted on July 15, 2012.
The study of stereotypes has a long history in social psychology, and one of most widely studied phenomena is “stereotype threat.” It works this way. When a person is reminded of a stereotype that is relevant to the self – say, the stereotype in some countries that German men can’t dance – the person unconsciously uses critical cognitive resources processing that idea, monitoring the self and anticipating other’s reactions, and this extra cognitive burden actually interferes with performance. Hence, the idea of the stereotype is “self-fulfilling” even if the person in question doesn’t believe the stereotype and usually performs well (i.e., when not reminded of the stereotype).
A recent broadcast on NPR discusses stereotype threat as one of the causes of lower participation and persistence of women in science. In this segment, Shankar Vedantam describes research at the University of Arizona demonstrating that women in science professions reported being more disengaged when speaking with male colleagues, but not with female colleagues – a finding consistent with the operation of stereotype threat and the idea that women do not persist in science.
This broadcast and the accompanying article would be a good “starter” in an introductory psychology section on “social psychology” or in a more advanced social psychology class on the topic of “stereotypes” or “gender differences”.
Vedantam, S. (2012, July 12). How stereotypes can drive women to quit science. Broadcast on National Public Radio . (online:http://www.npr.org/2012/07/12/156664337/stereotype-threat-why-women-quit-science-jobs).