Go Ahead, Be a Snob

Go Ahead, Be a Snob

Ever heard of “stereotype threat?” Studies over the years have shown that cuing men and women to think about their perceived weaknesses can trigger performance anxiety. For example, asking women to note their gender or asking Blacks about their race negatively affects the test-taker’s answers.

Now, University of Texas psychologist Matthew S. McGlone is out to prove that stereotype threat is the reason that men have traditionally outscored women in the Vandenberg-Kuse Mental Rotation Test, a standard test of visual-spatial abilities linked to math performance.

McGlone asked 90 Lafayette College students to take the test. But first, he gave them each a questionnaire. In one-third of the tests, McGlone asked questions about co-ed dorms and activities, triggering a subtle awareness of gender. In the control group, he asked students about life in the Northeast. And in the third group, he asked students why they chose Lafayette, an elite private school in Pennsylvania, over a state school — triggering their “snob schema,” as McGlone puts it.

McGlone, who was a Lafayette faculty member for 10 years, found that the women who were encouraged to think of themselves as attendees of a privileged private school scored dramatically higher than those in the group reminded that they were women. 

“When you beat them over the head with their gender, men’s performance doesn’t change, but women’s really plummets,” says McGlone. “But when we prime them as elite students, the gap goes away.”

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