Gender-stereotyping and cognitive sex differences in mixed- and same-sex groups
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Sex differences in specific cognitive abilities are well documented, but the biological, psychological, and sociocultural interactions that may underlie these differences are largely unknown. We examined within a biopsychosocial approach how gender stereotypes affect cognitive sex differences when adult participants were tested in mixed- or same-sex groups. A total of 136 participants (70 women) were allocated to either mixed- or same-sex groups and completed a battery of sex-sensitive cognitive tests (i.e., mental rotation, verbal fluency, perceptual speed) after gender stereotypes or gender-neutral stereotypes (control) were activated. To study the potential role of testosterone as a mediator for group sex composition and stereotype boost/threat effects, saliva samples were taken before the stereotype manipulation and after cognitive testing. The results showed the typical male and female advantages in mental rotation and verbal fluency, respectively. In general, men and women who were tested in mixed-sex groups and whose gender stereotypes had not been activated performed best. Moreover, a stereotype threat effect emerged in verbal fluency with reduced performance in gender stereotyped men but not women. Testosterone levels did not mediate the effects of group sex composition and stereotype threat nor did we find any relationship between testosterone and cognitive performance in men and women. Taken together, the findings suggest that an interaction of gender stereotyping and group sex composition affects the performance of men and women in sex-sensitive cognitive tasks. Mixed-sex settings can, in fact, increase cognitive performance as long as gender-stereotyping is prevented.