Stereotype Threat in Context: The psychosocial experience of Stereotype Threat susceptible urban high school girls in honors mathematics classes

Date of Completion

January 2011


Education, Mathematics|Psychology, Social|Education, Educational Psychology




Stereotype Threat (ST) research has been shown to negatively impact the academic performance of females in stereotypically 'male' domains like mathematics (Aronson, Quinn & Spencer, 1999). The experimental nature of ST research has allowed for the examination of moderators and mediators of the phenomenon in controlled settings. Research on assessing the validity of these moderators in naturalistic settings is currently lacking in the literature. The purpose of this study was to explore, through phenomenology, the experiences of females susceptible to math-related ST, in their natural learning environments. A phenomenological study comparing the experiences of high and low susceptibility-to-ST females was conducted with eight 9th grade females enrolled in honors mathematics classes in an urban high school in the Northeast United States. Of this sample, half were identified by the Social Identities and Attitudes Scale (SIAS), a measure of ST susceptibility, as highly susceptible to ST. The other half was identified as low susceptibility to ST. ^ Findings suggest that high susceptibility to ST students experienced a wide range of negative emotions regarding both mathematics and the context in which the subject was learned. Emotions common amongst highly susceptible students were inadequacy and hopelessness regarding mathematics learning, frustration, and feelings of isolation (both social and intellectual) in their classes. High ST susceptible females also experienced differential teacher treatment, and endorsed beliefs associating mathematics ability with Whiteness' or genetic ability. The reverse was true for low-susceptibility-to-ST students who had positive relationships with their teachers, positive schooling experiences and espoused a malleable view of intelligence. Differences in social factors, like family SES, parent education, and role models, were also present, and explored within the context of ST. Findings from this study lend credence to extant experimental research on ST moderators, and also provides insight into the experiences of females susceptible to this phenomenon, as well the contextual factors that might exacerbate ST in females highly susceptible to the phenomenon. ^