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Title: Why boys will be boys: stereotype threat and boys' academic underachievement
Author: Hartley , Bonny
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis examines whether stereotype threat contributes to boys' relative academic underachievement, whereby negative expectations about gender and performance become self-fulfilling. I present five studies that determine the role that stereotype threat plays in boys' academic underachievement. I begin by exploring children's and adults' acquisition and awareness of a stereotype that boys are academically inferior to girls. I then determine whether this stereotype impairs boys' academic performance, and whether it is possible to counteract these effects. My first empirical chapter documents the existence of a stereotype which portrays boys as inferior students to girls. Study I (n = 238) examined the age at which primary school children acquire the stereotype that boys have poorer scbool conduct and achievement compared to girls, and perceive that adults also endorse this stereotype. Results showed that girls from age 4 and boys from age 7 believed, and thought adults believed, that boys are academically inferior to girls. Study 2 (n = 121) determined that one of the most relevant sections of the population for children - teachers - endorse similar stereotypes about young male academic inferiority, and perceive that children share this belief Study 3 (n = 123) established that this stereotype portraying males as inferior students is endorsed in the wider population outside the specific school context. More specifically, university students endorsed stereotypes which portray female university students as academically superior to male students, and meta-stereotypes that lecturers share this belief. Similarly, they stereotyped schoolgirls as academically superior to schoolboys, and believed that school children perceive girls as superior students. This study also explored how sexist ideologies may influence perceptions of male vs. female academic superiority. My second empirical chapter examines how these gendered academic stereotypes may affect primary school children's test performance. Study 4 (n = 162) tested whether boys are vulnerable to stereotype threat effects by examining whether a message distilling this cultural stereotype influences their performance. Informing children (aged 7-8 years) that boys tend to do worse than girls at school hindered boys' performance on reading, writing. and maths tests compared to a control group who did not receive this information. Girls' performance was unaffected. Study 5 examined whether it is possible to nullify stereotypes about male academic inferiority by informing children aged 6-9 (n~ 184) that boys and girls were expected to perform equally well. This improved the performance of boys and did not affect that of girls. Taken together, these studies document the important role that stereotype threat may play in boys' academic underachievement. The findings advance the educational literature regarding the causes of and solutions to boys' underachievement, and extend the social psychological literatures on gender stereotyping and stereotype threat to this new domain. The educational literature and policy regarding boys' academic underachievement has been dominated by ===assumptions that boys are different from girls in essentialist, often biological tenns, whereas I examine this issue from a social constructionist perspective. Since children are not born with academic gender stereotypes, they must be receiving social cues that girls are stronger academically and expected to do better than boys - cues that can be made salient or diffused. This thesis provides the first evidence as to when gender stereotypes about male academic inferiority develop in childhood, how they may threaten school perfonnance, and how they may be made the focus of remedial interventions.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available