If you're a man looking for a performance boost, a dose of sexist stereotype may be all you need.
Scientists found that reminding a man of the stereotype that men are better at navigating than women can enhance his course-plotting skills, suggesting that even when a stereotype has no basis in truth, it can still influence performance.
Researchers, in a study published in the journal Sex Roles, explained that being reminded of a negative stereotype can make the negative stereotyped group choke under pressure in a process called the 'stereotype threat'.
For instance, female participants reminded of the stereotype girls can't do math end up performing worse than other female participants who weren't reminded on the stereotype. In contrast, the 'stereotype lift' occurs when a person is reminded that their demographic is supposed to be good at a particular task.
Researchers from the latest study said that navigation stereotypes were ideal for studying stereotype lift and threat because the assumption that men are better at directions than women does not take into account the type of direction being given.
Therefore, researchers were able to study how the cliché affected performance on both landmark navigation, which doesn't show any true gender differences, and geometric navigation, which men have been found to be better at.
Lead researcher Harriet Rosenthal of Durham University in England recruited 40 female and 40 male undergraduates. Participants had to play a computer game in which they had to locate a hidden object by either using colorful three-dimensional shapes as landmarks or by determining the geometry of the walls of the virtual rooms.
Investigators told half of the participants that their results would be used to analyze gender differences in navigation, thus bringing to mind the navigation stereotype. While, like previous studies, men did better than women at navigating with geometric cues alone, their performance improved on both the landmark and the geometric versions of the game when they were reminded on the navigation stereotype, suggesting that the male participants were experiencing stereotype lift.
However, researchers found that in women the navigation stereotype did not produce a stereotype threat and take away from their performance. Researchers suggest that it could be that the task was too difficult to trigger a drop in performance, or that it could be that all the female participants, even those who had not been reminded of the stereotype, thought of the cliché anyways because they were asked to do a navigation task.