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Study Associates Implicit Gender Stereotypes with Science/Math Achievement

A new study finds a strong correlation between hidden or unconscious stereotypes that link males with science and mathematics to higher achievement among males in those fields. The findings, by University of Virginia psychology professor Brain Nosek, are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study matches data from two independent databases, one on common biases and the other on science/math achievement. The first database, dubbed Project Implicit, examines hidden, unspoken stereotypes lurking among people in all walks of life, even those who consider themselves fair and open-minded. The project gathers data on gender, race, age, religion, and other social stereotypes and has collected data on the attitudes of more than 4.5 million people worldwide. Project Implicit has used Web-based questionnaires for data collection since 1998.

Nosek and his team matched the Project Implicit data to the achievement results in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). TIMSS gathers achievement data from 4th and 8th grade students worldwide. The latest TIMSS effort collected achievement results in 2007 on 8th grade students in 48 countries and 4th grade students in 36 countries.

Using the TIMSS 8th grade data, Nosek found that 70 percent of the Project Implicit participants in 34 countries with TIMSS  results hold implicit stereotypes connecting science and math to males more than females. And in those countries where the stereotypes were most pronounced, the gender differences in test scores were also more pronounced.

Project Implicit asks respondents to quickly associated male terms (e.g., he, father, son) or female terms (she, mother, daughter) with science terms (physics, chemistry, biology) or liberal arts (literature, history, arts). Most participants associated science terms with male terms rather than with female terms. The study also found these implicit connections at about the same rate among male and female respondents.

Nosek used data collected by Project Implicit from July 2000 through July 2008. The Gender-Science Implicit Association Test is one of the several demonstration tests on the Project Implicit site, if you want to test your own potential biases.