We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

Arts versus science - academic background implicitly activates gender stereotypes on cognitive abilities with threat raising men's (but lowering women's) performance.

Hausmann, M. (2014) 'Arts versus science - academic background implicitly activates gender stereotypes on cognitive abilities with threat raising men's (but lowering women's) performance.', Intelligence., 46 . pp. 235-245.


There is ongoing debate as to whether “innate” cognitive sex differences contribute to the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering careers. Decades of gender research have revealed good evidence that both biological (e.g. sex hormones) and socio-cultural factors (e.g. gender stereotypes) contribute significantly to cognitive sex differences. Research on gender stereotypes has revealed that priming gender can have adverse or beneficial effects on cognitive performance, depending on whether primed participants appraise the testing situation as threatening or challenging. Several contextual factors have been investigated in this respect. Despite the debate on women in STEM disciplines, however, surprisingly little attention has been paid to academic discipline as a potentially relevant contextual factor. The present study investigated whether gender stereotypes affect cognitive sex differences differently in STEM (chemistry, engineering) and arts (English, philosophy) students. In Experiment 1, male and female arts and science students were tested on two sex-sensitive cognitive tests (mental rotation and verbal fluency) after gender stereotypes were activated. In Experiment 2, arts versus science stereotypes were activated. It was hypothesized that beliefs linked to gender and academic discipline are strongly associated (science = male, arts = female) with similar cognitive effects. Regardless of which identity is primed, it was hypothesized that female arts students would be particularly vulnerable to stereotype threat and would show the lowest performance of all groups in a male cognitive domain (i.e., mental rotation). Due to men's higher confidence in their cognitive abilities, it was hypothesized that primed men would show a performance increase in both spatial (stereotype lift) and verbal abilities (stereotype reactance). The results supported these hypotheses. The two experiments suggest that prompting participants' academic discipline implicitly activated gender stereotypes with considerable negative consequences for women's cognitive test performance. The results also suggest that the well-known sex difference in mental rotation (with men outperforming women) primarily occurs when negative stereotypes about women's spatial abilities are implicitly primed.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Cognitive sex differences, Gender stereotypes, Mental rotation, Stereotype threat, Verbal fluency.
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Download PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Intelligence. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Intelligence, 46, September–October 2014, 10.1016/j.intell.2014.07.004.
Date accepted:06 July 2014
Date deposited:13 November 2014
Date of first online publication:03 August 2014
Date first made open access:No date available

Save or Share this output

Look up in GoogleScholar