Everybody has their expectations. About basically everything in life. Will the Cardinals win the World Series? Will my date be nice? Can I solve this problem? What can I achieve in life? These are the types of things we all have expectations about.
A Canadian research group recently reported the results of their study on women’s expectations for solving math problems. You can find the article in Science (sorry, you need a subscription), and a report in the NYT. 220 women were divided into 4 groups and given math and reading comprehension tests between 2003 and 2006. The women were given a GRE (Graduate Records Exam)-like math test, then asked to read an essay, and then given a second math exam. Four different essays were handed out. These essays argued that gender differences in math performances were due to (i) genetic (G), or (ii) experiential (E) differences between the sexes, or (iii) employed standard sexual sterotypes without mentioning mathematical abilities (S), or (iv) argued that there are no gender related math-differences (ND).
The results showed that the women receiving the (S) and (G) essays answered 5-10 out of 25 math questions correctly, while the (E) and (ND) essay groups answered 15-20 of the questions correctly. That’s a factor of 2 difference! In other words, the women that were told they would perform poorly because they were women, did.
The results do not seem surprising to me, but I am glad someone has quantified this. I would like to see another study with a larger statistical sample, and I would like to see the results of the first and second math tests to ensure the four populations were statisitcally even in their inate mathematical abilites.
The study was performed by Steven J. Heine, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, and his PhD student Ilan Dar-Nimrod.