The effect of stereotype threat on men and women's athletic performance


Stereotype threat occurs when performance suffers after an individual is reminded of negative stereotypes surrounding his or her in-group. In physical activity, women tend to be stereotyped as having poor musculoskeletal ability, but better cardiovascular endurance compared to men. The effect of stereotype threat on exercise performance has not been tested. The purpose of this study was to test the effects of stereotype threat on men and women's performance on an exercise task (jump squats) and to test theoretical moderators of performance (self-handicapping and athletic disengagement). Healthy young adults (N=142) completed a jump squat task in pairs after being exposed to one of three scenarios: (1) men are stronger and should outperform women (2) women have better aerobic capacity and should outperform men or (3) the task was related to recovery time and was not gendered in any way. There was no significant effect of condition on women's performance, and athletic disengagement was lower in the threat condition for women. Performance on the jump squat task was better in the threat condition for men. Men in the threat condition also displayed more self-handicapping and athletic disengagement. Self-handicapping and athletic disengagement were not significant moderators of the effects of condition on performance for either sex. These findings were not consistent with the hypotheses. These results suggest that gender stereotyping may be less relevant to women's athletic performance than literature suggests, and that gender stereotyping may motivate men towards improved performance.