The Importance of Knowing your History: Perceiving Past Women as less Agentic than Contemporary Women Predicts Impaired Quantitative Performance
Research on dynamic stereotypes of women has shown that women perceive large differences between contemporary women and women who lived in the past in terms of agentic (or masculine) traits. This temporal discrepancy in agentic attributes of women may suggest that agency is not a stable trait of women and may result in impaired performance in domains associated with agency, such as quantitative reasoning. We propose that women who think that agency has always characterized their gender group would perform better in quantitative tasks. Indeed, we found that as the difference between agency attributed to present and past women decreased, U.S. college women’s (n = 80) accuracy in a quantitative test increased (Study 1). Further, reading a text about women’s achievements in the history of science reduced the discrepancy between agency attributed to past and present women and had an indirect positive effect on quantitative performance by 150 U.S. college women (Study 2). Findings suggest that women’s participation and performance in science could be improved by raising awareness of women’s historical achievements in male-dominated areas.
KeywordsDynamic stereotypes Identity continuity Agency Psychological essentialism Stereotype threat
The authors thank Dr. Kay Deaux for helpful comments on an earlier draft.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
The authors, Nida Bikmen, Mary Abbott Torrence, and Victoria Krumholtz declare that they have no conflict of interest regarding the revised manuscript titled “The importance of knowing your history: Perceiving past women as less agentic than contemporary women predicts impaired quantitative performance” and submitted to Sex Roles for publication. The two studies reported in the manuscript were approved by Denison University, Department of Psychology Human Subjects Review Board. The informed consent documents for the two studies will be made available upon request. No funding was received for conducting the research.
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