Stereotypes Influence Girls’ Unconscious Feelings

Researchers tested hundreds of first graders to see whether there was a difference between what their conscious feelings were about math and how they unconsciously felt about math. For girls, their conscious feelings about math were positive and the same as those of the first-grade boys. And why wouldn’t they be – their math grades were just as good as the boys.

But girls’ unconscious feelings about math were more negative. Much more negative than the boys. Something about math made them feel uncomfortable. It is as though they somehow unconsciously felt that their backpack was not as full as it should be when they were trying to solve a math problem.

Researchers speculate that these unconscious negative feelings about math are the result of “the influence of prevailing attitudes of adults in their culture.” In other words, cultural stereotypes might have been affecting how these children feel about math whether they realize it or not.

So, girls are getting stereotyped messages from the culture that math is not for girls. You can learn more about math stereotypes in module 23. This study reveals that girls absorb these adult stereotypes, and they then begin to struggle with negative unconscious feelings about math.

  • Academic sense of self
    how a person thinks of themself as a student
    the belief that some people or ideas are better than others, usually resulting in unfair treatment
    Black, Indigenous, people of color
    thoughts or feelings that we are aware of
    Growth mindset
    the belief that, with effort, you can learn and achieve new things.
    In-group preference
    the tendency to form close relationships with others in a person’s same groups
    a cluster of characteristics, such as feeling confident, having pride in oneself, and a sense of self-worth
    Sense of self
    how a person thinks and feels about their self
    a widespread belief that a person must have a trait because they belong to a particular group
    thoughts or feelings that we are unaware of