Impact of negative stereotypes about boys and influences on performance, motivation and group processes in the classroom.
- Publisher: Freie Universität Berlin Universitätsbibliothek, Garystr. 39, 14195 Berlin
stereotype threat | school | 150 Psychologie | 150 Psychology | gender disparities | social identity
Over the past few years, the academic performance of boys has not only increasingly become the focus of research but has also been widely discussed in the mass media (Weaver-Hightower, 2003). The key content of this discourse, which has attracted considerable public attention, is that boys have fallen behind academically, compared to girls. In contrast to the situation in pre-vious cohorts, they are therefore currently gaining school leaving certificates of a lower level than those gained by girls. Empirically, it is noticeable that boys are increasingly less represented as the level of education increases; i.e. in Germany, a higher proportion of boys attends the lowest level of secondary school ("Hauptschule") whilst girls are over-represented in the schools that offer the highest level of secondary school education ("Gymnasium"). In terms of academic per-formance, it is fair to say that as far as reading competence is concerned – which is a key skill for academic success – boys are performing considerably less well than girls, although the difference is comparatively less pronounced yet still marked in mathematics, where the boys are perform-ing better. The stereotypical label of "male non-achiever" generally propagated by the media is therefore applied unjustly as the performance of girls and boys continues to differ in line with the gender connotations of a particular subject domain.
According to the research approach practised by Hannover & Kessels (e.g. Hannover & Kessels, 2011, Kessels & Hannover, 2004, 2006), school is not only a place for competence acquisition but also a place where children and young adults develop and negotiate their identity. Focusing in more detail on gender-based identity development, it appears that children and young adults assess the gender connotations of educational and social interaction offers at school and gear their behaviour towards supporting their male or female identity.
Considering this aspect, the media representation of boys as "academic non-achievers" can con-tribute to boys distancing themselves from school education. Stereotyping can therefore pose a threat which has an adverse impact on their performance at school.
The paradigm of stereotyping as a threat is based on the fear that affirming a negative stereotype through the own group reduces a particular individual's achievement potential. The extent to which male and female students in fact perceive the stereotypical "male academic non-achiever" (Study 1), and also the consequences arising from this perception in terms of the performance of boys in the subjects of German and mathematics (Study 2) and in terms of motivation (Studies 3 and 4) will be examined within the scope of this work. It will further examine to what extent this threat to the superiority status of boys impacts on intergroup behaviour in a school context. In this respect, the theory of social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) postulates approaches to how an insecure social identity induced by threat can be stabilised through the reestablishment of positive distinctions, for example through degradation of the other group (Studies 5 and 6), ad-justment of the identity relevant social comparison dimensions (Study 7) or by changing the so-cial comparison group (Study 8).
The results of Study 1 show that in a school context, young adults ascribe considerably more negative characteristics to boys than they do to girls, who are characterised mainly by positive attitudes when it comes to school. The results of Study 2 clearly illustrate that this negative ste-reotyping with regard to the academic performance of boys has an adverse impact on the achievements of boys in the subject of German, which tends have feminine connotations, alt-hough it has no effect on the performance of boys in the subject of mathematics, a domain that tends to be perceived as masculine. Subsequent to being given a short reading text to work through, which suggested the conclusion that the boys in the group generally performed less well academically, their achievements in the subject of German were in fact considerably lower com-pared to the achievements in a control group, whereas the girls in the group that participated in the experiment even performed better than those in the control group in the subject of German (Study 2). There appeared to be no significant differences in performance in mathematics as a direct result of this experimental approach. Study 3 examined the effect of a similar experimental situation on motivation; this was replicated in Study 4. After the analysis of a brief statistic which showed that boys did worse in school, the level of motivational goal orientation appeared to be unaffected in the subject of German whereas in mathematics, the boys in the group taking part in the experiment showed a stronger orientation towards the learning aims than those in the con-trol group (Studies 3 and 4). These results indicate that the threat of stereotyping boys contrib-utes to increased gender typecasting in their motivation and performance related development at school. As far as Studies 5 to 8 on the theory of social identity are concerned, these showed that the boys who had taken part in the experiment tended to be more disposed towards entering into direct social competition, and in particular towards the degradation of femininity, which was expressed through more markedly hostile sexist attitudes towards girls, compared to the boys in the control group. In contrast, the girls who took part in the experiment reported an increase in benevolent sexist attitudes towards girls, compared to those in the control group. Studies 5 to 8 on the reestablishment of positive distinctions were inconclusive, as the experimental manipula-tion showed no differentiating effects in terms of adjustment of comparison dimension or change of comparison group. This may mean that the boys in the age group examined possibly do not consider "social creativity" to be an adequate strategy against threats to their social identity but in fact tend to rely more on social competition in this respect.
By way of conclusion, the results are summarised and discussed with regard to their implications for the field of social and educational psychology research, for the application environment school and for educational administration as well as education policy.