Perfectionism moderates stereotype threat effects on STEM majors’ academic performance (Rice et al. 2013)
Rice, K., Lopez, F., Richardson, C., & Stinson, J. (2013). Perfectionism moderates stereotype threat effects on STEM majors’ academic performance. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60(2), 287-293.
By clicking this link, you are leaving CLEAR and are subject to the privacy and security policies of the owners/sponsors of the external site. CLEAR does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of information contained in a linked site. We also do not endorse the organizations or individuals maintaining sites that we link to, any views they express, or any products/services they offer.
When last checked, this publication was not available for free online. You may be able to locate it by conducting a Google search for the citation.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of “stereotype threat priming” on students’ grades in postsecondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses and on self-reported feelings of self-efficacy in science. The authors argued that women and racial minorities perform worse in certain fields, such as STEM, when they feel threatened by stereotypes implying that their gender or race makes them inferior to their male or white peers. For this study, the authors primed treatment students to think about their gender, race, and ethnicity before completing a survey to measure self-efficacy in science. This priming was intended to make feelings of stereotype threat more acute.
- The study randomly assigned students majoring in a STEM field to either the treatment group, which received stereotype threat priming before taking the survey, or the control group, which took the same survey but did not receive stereotype threat priming. The authors collected data from an author-generated online survey on feelings of self-efficacy and from academic records for course grades.
- The study found that the stereotype threat priming had no significant effects by gender when comparing outcomes for the treatment and control groups.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because this is a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition, and the authors did not control for background characteristics likely to affect the outcomes of interest. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects would have been attributable to stereotype threat priming; other factors are likely to have contributed.
Features of the Study
The study took place at two universities in the United States, one in the southeast region and one in the southwest region. At each university, the authors selected a random sample of students pursuing traditional degrees in STEM, stratified by race, to participate in an online survey that measured feelings of self-efficacy toward work in scientific or technical fields and toward coping with issues that might arise with completing a college degree. The survey also measured the level of discrepancy between respondents’ expectations for themselves and their self-reported ability to match their expectations. A total of 294 students were included in the study.
For students in the treatment group, the intervention constituted a series of prompts to enter their gender, race, and ethnicity in large, bolded font before completing a survey. The authors suggested these questions create stereotype threat priming for the treatment group students because the students would begin the survey thinking more about their gender and race, which could trigger the internalized stereotypes about women and racial minorities’ typical performance in STEM fields. Students in the control group were asked the same questions about their gender, race, and ethnicity after completing all other survey questions, and these questions appeared in the same font as all other questions in the survey. Therefore, the authors posited that the control group did not face any priming regarding their gender or race before taking the survey, which might limit the effect of stereotype threat.
The authors collected data from both the survey itself and institutional records, which provided information on course grades and high school grade point averages (GPAs). The authors estimated regression models comparing the outcomes of treatment and control group members, and assessed whether the findings varied by gender, race, and self-reported discrepancy between one’s expectations and ability to meet those expectations. The authors separated findings on postsecondary GPA into fields in which women are typically underrepresented (physics, engineering, computer sciences, and math) and fields in which women are typically overrepresented or proportionally represented as compared to men (life sciences and social sciences).
- The study found that the stereotype threat priming, as implemented in the survey, had no significant effects by gender when comparing outcomes for the treatment and control groups.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors dropped five cases with outlier data on the self-efficacy score outcome, and indicated that there was also considerable missing data for GPA outcomes. The authors stated that they used auxiliary variables to address missing data concerns, but the study does not provide enough information to clarify the exact empirical strategy used nor to assess attrition.
In addition, it is unclear from the study when the authors conducted the survey in relation to the semester from which grade outcomes were measured. If the survey took place during or after the semester, then the findings from this study may not be considered causal.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because this is a randomized controlled trial with unknown attrition, and the authors did not include controls for background characteristics likely to affect the outcomes of interest. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects would have been attributable to stereotype threat priming; other factors are likely to have contributed.