Group discussion enough to shatter stereotypes

July 7, 2010

Having a short group discussion about why a negative stereotype is invalid is enough to overcome that stereotype and improve performance, according to a University of Queensland researcher.

Psychologist Dr Laura Smith from UQ Business School conducted two studies with 380 undergraduate university students in the UK to debunk the stereotype that women are not as skilled at mathematics as men.

Dr Smith found that women performed better on a maths exam after they had joined in a group discussion about why that stereotype was not true.

Similarly, women who discussed why the stereotype might be true did not perform as well as their male counterparts on the maths exam.

Dr Smith said the findings had huge implications for learning and work.

“Stereotype ‘threat', which is the negative impact that an activated stereotype may have on a stigmatised individual's performance, is well documented,” she said.

“Basically this can affect performance in many domains including women and career choice, race and academic performance, and social class.

“In many countries, we see doing worse than boys in maths exams and consequently women are very much underrepresented in maths and engineering professions. There's a big in these areas.

“The broader implications of our research are that it looks like we could really use discussion to promote positive social change and eliminate some of these inequalities.”

Dr Smith's research — conducted with Professor Tom Postmes from The University of Groningen in The Netherlands — involved students participating in five to ten minute group discussions about the validity — or invalidity — of stereotypes before sitting the exam.

“You need a social intervention to breakdown a because stereotypes are socially shared representations of ,” she said.

“They only derive their power from being agreed upon and validated by others.

“We aren't isolated beings, we're social animals and any ‘objective' measures of our performance and intellectual ability are actually dependent on what other people think of us. This social problem needs a social solution.”

Dr Smith said she would like to do further, long-term work in the area to follow people over time and see if multiple discussions could really eliminate these inequalities altogether.

“The next stage would be to test whether repeated discussions on this topic of gender performance in mathematics could be powerful enough to change stereotypes, and be able to endure through exposure to occasional contradictory conversations,” she said.

Dr Smith's research has recently been published in The British Journal of Social Psychology.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Probing how Americans think about mental life

October 20, 2017
When Stanford researchers asked people to think about the sensations and emotions of inanimate or non-human entities, they got a glimpse into how those people think about mental life.

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Dutch courage—Alcohol improves foreign language skills

October 18, 2017
A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King's College London, shows that bilingual speakers' ability to speak a second ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.