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November 17, 2008

Both men and women do worse on an online math test when assigned a female avatar.


Can you stereotype yourself?…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The anonymity of the online world doesn’t stop people from internalizing negative stereotypes. That’s according to research done by Clifford Nass, a professor of communications and computer science at Stanford University, and colleagues. Volunteers were asked to take an online math test and were randomly assigned a picture represent them on-screen – either a male or female face. Nass says participants assigned a female face did worse on the test when they competed against male faces.

CLIFFORD NASS (Stanford University): Regardless of whether you were a male or female // if you had a male face, you did better on the math test than if you had a female face. You thought you did better. You tried harder, and all these other effects. And if you think about it, that’s a shocking result.

HIRSHON: Nass says the good news is that emphasizing cooperation instead of competition reduced the negative effect. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.