Award Date

8-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Learning and Technology

Department

Educational Psychology

First Committee Member

E. Michael Nussbaum, Co-Chair

Second Committee Member

Gale M. Sinatra, Co-Chair

Third Committee Member

Gita Taasoobshirazi

Graduate Faculty Representative

MaryKay Orgill

Number of Pages

184

Abstract

"Stereotype threat is being at risk of confirming, as a self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group" (C. M. Steele & Aronson, 1995, p. 797). A stereotype threat effect then is described as the detrimental impact on a person's performance or achievement measurements when they are placed in a stereotype threat environment.

For women, the negative stereotype that exists in our culture states that women are typically not as capable as men in mathematics or science subjects. This study specifically explored the potential impact of stereotype threat on women who have chosen a science-based college major. They were tested in the domain of chemistry, which is related to mathematics and often involves high level of mathematics skills. I attempted to generate a stereotype threat in the participants through describing a chemistry challenge exam as either one that had consistently shown a gender bias against women and to create a nullification effect by describing the exam as one that had shown no gender bias in the past. In the third experimental condition acting as a control, participants received only generic instructions related to taking the test itself. The second part of this study investigated whether stereotype threat effects could impact women's achievement goal orientations. In previous studies performance avoidance goal orientations have been associated with individuals placed in a stereotype threat environment.

The findings on the stereotype threat effect were not significant for the chemistry challenge test achievement scores. This may be due to several factors. One factor may be the design of the chemistry challenge test and the instructions for the test. The other factor may be the women in this study. As individuals who have chosen a science based major, they may have developed coping skills and strategies that reduced the impact of a stereotype threat. It is also possible that the testing environment itself generated an implicit stereotype type threat effect which reduced the differences among the experimental conditions.

However, there were significant findings related to the participants' achievement goal orientations. Individuals in the stereotype threat condition displayed higher levels of performance avoidance, overall performance, and overall avoidance goal orientations consistent with the existing literature. Post-hoc open-ended questionnaires revealed that most participants believed that men and women were equally capable in mathematics and sciences but that they also had an awareness of the negative stereotype against women in mathematics and sciences among the public.

This study supports the demonstration of stereotype threat effects on women who are enrolled in science based college majors. Although I was not able to create a stereotype threat effect on their chemistry challenge test scores, I was able to demonstrate an effect on their achievement goal orientations, which has implications for instructional design and standardized testing.

Keywords

Achievement goal orientation; Chemistry; Math achievement; Motivation; Stereotype threat; Stereotypes (Social psychology); Women in science; Women science students; Women's achievement

Disciplines

Cultural History | Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Educational Psychology | Science and Mathematics Education | Social History

Language

English