Subliminal lipstick reduces preference for maths
Jess McCabe // 13 December 2006
Gender stereotypes are ingrained enough to influence our judgment in crazy ways. For example, this study shows that reminding female students of their gender made them more likely to say they prefer art subjects over maths.
The study took two groups of female students: it asked one group questions about their telephone service, and the other group what they think of co-ed housing.
The women in the group who were asked about co-ed housing expressed a greater preference for the arts compared with the women who were asked questions about their telephone service. Researchers believe that reminding the students about their sex — as a question about co-ed housing would do — subtly activated an association with the sexual stereotype that the arts are feminine, and math is masculine.
Pretty crazy, huh? It gets weirder:
In another part of the study they recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, two groups were told to focus on a plus sign on a computer screen. Periodically, they would see flashes on the right or left.
What the students did not know is that the flashes displayed a word for less than one-tenth of a second, followed by a string of “X’s.” The word was presented too quickly for the undergraduate women volunteers to be aware of what it said — but it was enough to make a difference at a subliminal level.
When words with feminine associations such as “doll” or “lipstick” or “skirt” were flashed, students were more likely to express a preference for the arts over math compared with those who were flashed the words “hammer,” “suit” or “cigar.”
And even weirder. In another experiment, white students taking a maths test did better when there was an American flag in the room – while ethnic minority students were unaffected.