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The impact of social change on women's perceptions and performance in math
Shaffer, Emily Suzanne
Men have historically dominated the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Given that in today's society women and men have more equal opportunities than ever before, one might expect that women would be moving into these fields with a steady rate. This appears not to be the case. Despite current initiatives to encourage young, qualified women to consider careers in STEM fields, men still outnumber women four to one in all areas of employment associated with science and engineering. It is important to understand what contributes to this disparity so that strategies can be developed to address it. The present thesis focuses on one such strategy: namely, presenting women with information about their group's progress in STEM as a way to reduce women's concerns about whether they belong and are able to perform well in math. However, the framing of social progress in general is not always received positively by minorities. Therefore, group progress was either framed in relation from the past to the present, or present to the future. It was hypothesized that women would perform best on the math test when progress is framed from the past to the present. When progress was framed from present to future, stereotype threat effects were hypothesized to be somewhat buffered but not as effectively as in the past to present condition. Women in the control condition were expected to perform in a manner reflective of standard stereotype threat situations. As a secondary hypothesis, to the extent that the progress of women posed a threat to men, the knowledge of social progress of women in STEM fields from past to present was expected to cause men's performance to suffer. Because men are not negatively stereotyped in this domain, males in the control condition were expected to perform to their ability. Finally, to the extent that insufficient progress of women is not a threat to men (present to future condition), men were hypothesized to perform best. These hypotheses were examined in a 2 (Participant Gender: male vs. female) X 3 (Social Change Framework: "past to present," "present to future," control) between participants design. Sixty-two females and 53 males were told they will complete a number of tasks regarding academics and student life. As a manipulation of stereotype threat, participants were told that they would be taking a math test that has sometimes shown gender differences favoring men. They then read a short article that highlighted women's progress in STEM fields, followed by a task assessing their group efficacy. Results showed that stereotype threat effects were alleviated and women performed best when social progress was framed from the past to the present. There were no differences between females who read about progress in relation to the future and those in the control. The framing of social progress had no significant effect on males' performance. Implications for stereotype threat interventions are discussed.
Master of Arts (M.A.) San Diego State University, 2011
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