Can Rewards Obviate Stereotype Threat Effects on Mental Rotation Tasks?


We examined whether sex-linked performance differences in Mental Rotation (MR) were obviated by rewards for performing the tasks. MR is typically seen as the domain of men, and therefore women completing the MR tasks likely worked under conditions of stereotype threat, which meant that their performance could vary according to situational variables. Men and women (n = 33 each) performed rotations and provided several self-reflective reports on their performances and background information about their experiences. Half of the participants (within sex) were rewarded for their participation with a gift card. Women’s MR performance was lower than men’s when no reward was given, but equaled it when they were rewarded. The finding was not a function of skill and self-reported effort, and emerged even when a stringent scoring technique was employed. The results suggest that rewards, even if they are not large, may nullify stereotype threat effects on women’s MR.

Share and Cite:

Kanoy, A. , Brownlow, S. & Sowers, T. (2012). Can Rewards Obviate Stereotype Threat Effects on Mental Rotation Tasks?. Psychology, 3, 542-547. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.37080.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Alington, D. E., Leaf, R. C., & Monaghan, J. R. (2001). Effects of stimulus color, pattern, and practice on sex differences in mental rotations task performance. The Journal of Psychology, 126, 539-553.
[2] Aronson, J., Lustina, M. L., Good, C., Keough, K., Steele, C. M., & Brown, J. (1998). When white men can’t do math: Necessary and sufficient factors in stereotype threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 29-46. doi:10.1006/jesp.1998.1371
[3] Balentine, C. B., & Brownlow, S. (2006). Does making salient task relevance to group affiliation decrease the performance of male athletes on spatial tasks? Psi Chi Journal, 11, 37-44.
[4] Bodner, G. M., & Guay, R. B. (1997). The purdue visualization of rotations test. The Chemical Educator, 2, 1-18. doi:10.1007/s00897970138a
[5] Brodish, A. B., & Devine, P. G. (2009). The role of performance- avoidance goals and worry in mediating the relationship between stereotype threat and performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 180-185. doi:10.1016/j/jesp.2008.08.005
[6] Brown, R. P., & Josephs, R. A. (1999). A burden of proof: Stereotype relevance and gender differences in math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 244-257. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.76.2.246
[7] Brownlow, S., Janas, A. J., Blake, K. A., Rebadow, K. T., & Mellon, L. M. (2011). Getting by with a little help from my friends: Mental rotation ability after tacit peer encouragement. Psychology, 2, 383-370. doi:10.4236/psych.2011.24057
[8] Brownlow, S., McPheron, T. K., & Acks, C. N. (2003). Science background and spatial abilities in men and women. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 12, 371-380. doi:10.1023/B:JOST.0000006297.90536.7c
[9] Brownlow, S., Valentine, S. E., & Owusu, A. (2008). Women athletes’ mental rotation under stereotypic threat. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 107, 307-316. doi:10.2466/pms.107.1.307-316
[10] Cadinu, M., Maass, A., Frigerio, S., Impagliazzo, L., & Latinotti, S. (2003). Stereotype threat: The effect of expectancy on performance. European Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 267-285. doi:10.1002/ejsp.145
[11] Carr, P. B., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Stereotype threat and inflexible perseverance in problem solving. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 853-859. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.03.003
[12] Cherney, I. D. (2008). Mom, let me play more computer games: They improve my mental rotation skills. Sex Roles, 59, 776-786. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9498-z
[13] Cheryan, S. (2012). Understanding the paradox in math-related fields: Why do some gender gaps remain while others do not? Sex Roles, 66, 184-190. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0060-z
[14] Croizet, J., & Claire, T. (1998). Extending the concept of stereotype threat to social class: The intellectual underperformance of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 588-594. doi:10.1177/0146167298246003
[15] Else-Quest, N. M., Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (2010). Cross-national patterns of gender differences in mathematics: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 103-127. doi:10.1037/a0018053
[16] Freedman, J. L., Cunningham, J. A., & Krismer, K. (1992). Inferred values and the reverse-incentive effect in induced compliance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 357-368. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.62.3.357
[17] Goldstein, D., Haldane, D., & Mitchell, C. (1990). Sex differences in visual-spatial ability: The role of performance factors. Memory and Cognition, 18, 546-550. doi:10.3758/BF03198487
[18] Gonzalez, P. M., Blanton, H., & Williams, K. J. (2002). The effects of stereotype threat and double minority status on the test performance of Latino women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 656-670.
[19] Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., & Paisley, C. (1984). Effect of extrinsic incentives on use of test anxiety as an anticipatory attributional defense: Playing it cool when the stakes are high. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1136-1145. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.47.5.1136
[20] Gresky, D. M., Ten Eyck, L. L., Lord, C. G., & McIntyre, R. B. (2005). Effects of salient multiple identities on women’s performance under mathematics stereotype threat. Sex Roles, 53, 703-715. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-7735-2
[21] Kass, S. J., Ahlers, R. H., & Dugger, M. (1998). Eliminating gender differences through practice in an applied visual spatial task. Human Performance, 11, 337-349. doi:10.1207/s15327043hup1104_3
[22] Keller, J. (2002). Blatant stereotype threat and women’s math performance: Self-handicapping as a strategic means to cope with obtrusive negative performance expectations. Sex Roles, 47, 193-198. doi:10.1023/A:1021003307511
[23] Keller, J., & Dauenheimer, D. (2003). Stereotype threat in the classroom: Dejection mediates the disrupting threat effect on women’s math performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 371-381. doi:10.1177/0146167202250218
[24] Koenig, A. M., & Eagly, A. H. (2005). Stereotype threat in men on a test of social sensitivity. Sex Roles, 52, 489-496. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-3714-x
[25] Lesko, A. C., & Corpus, J. H. (2006). Discounting the difficult: How high math-identified women respond to stereotype threat. Sex Roles, 54, 113-125. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-8873-2
[26] Márquez, G. G. (2005). Memories of my melancholy whores. New York: Vintage.
[27] McIntyre, R. B., Paulson, R. M., & Lord, C. G. (2003). Alleviating women’s mathematics stereotype threat through salience of group achievements. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 83-90. doi:10.1016/S0022-1031(02)00513-9
[28] Newcombe, N. (2007). Taking science seriously: Straight thinking about spatial sex differences. In S. J. Ceci, & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Why Aren’t More Women in Science (pp. 69-78). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
[29] O’Brien, L. T., & Crandall, C. S. (2003). Stereotype threat and arousal: Effects on women’s math performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 782-789.
[30] Ostrove, N. (1978). Expectations for success on effort-determined tasks as a function of incentive and performance feedback. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 909-916. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.36.8.909
[31] Ozel, S., Larue, L., & Molinaro, C. (2004). Relationship between sport and spatial imagery: Comparison of three group of participants. Journal of Psychology, 138, 49-64. doi:10.3200/JRLP.138.1.49-64
[32] Raty, H., & Kasanen, K. (2007). Gendered views of ability in parents’ perceptions of their children’s academic competencies. Sex Roles, 56, 117-124.
[33] Rydell, R. J., Rydell, M. T., & Boucher, K. L. (2010). The effect of negative performance stereotypes on learning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 863-896. doi:10.1037/a0021139
[34] Scali, R. M., & Brownlow, S. (2001). Influence of instructional manipulation and stereotype activation on sex differences in spatial task performance. Psi Chi Journal, 6, 3-13.
[35] Scali, R. M., Brownlow, S., & Hicks, J. (2000). Gender differences in spatial task performance as a function of speed or accuracy orientation. Sex Roles, 43, 359-376. doi:10.1023/A:1026699310308
[36] Schmader, T. (2002). Gender identification moderates stereotype threat effects on women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 194-201. doi:10.1006/jesp.2001.1500
[37] Schmader, T., Johns, M., & Barquissau, M. (2004). The costs of accepting gender differences: The role of stereotype endorsement in women’s experience in the math domain. Sex Roles, 50, 835-850. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.115.2.336
[38] Schmader, T., Johns, M., & Forbes, C. (2008). An integrated process model of stereotype effects on performance. Psychological Review, 115, 336-356. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.115.2.336
[39] Seibt, B. F., & F?rster, J. (2004). Stereotype threat and performance: How self-stereotypes influence processing by inducing regulatory foci. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 38-56. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.87.1.38
[40] Shapiro, J. R. (2011). Different groups, different threats: A multi-threat approach to the experience of stereotype threats. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 464-480. doi:10.1177/0146167211398140
[41] Shapiro, J. R., & Neuberg, S. T. (2007). From stereotype threat to stereotype threats: Implications of a multi-threat framework for causes, moderators, mediators, consequences, and interventions. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 107-130. doi:10.1177/1088868306294790
[42] Shapiro, J. R., & Williams, A. M. (2012). The role of stereotype threats in undermining girls’ and women’s performance and interest in STEM fields. Sex Roles, 66, 175-183. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0051-0
[43] Sharps, M. J., Price, J. R., & Williams, J. K. (1994). Spatial cognition and gender: Instructional and stimulus influences on mental image rotation performance. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 413-425. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1994.tb00464.x
[44] Smith, J. L. (2006). The interplay among stereotypes, performance-avoidance goals, and women’s math performance expectations. Sex Roles, 54, 287-296. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9345-z
[45] Smith, J. L., & White, P. H. (2002). An examination of implicitly activated, explicitly activated, and nullified stereotypes on mathematical performance: It’s not just a woman’s issue. Sex Roles, 47, 179-190. doi:10.1023/A:1021051223441
[46] Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1998). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-27. doi:10.1006/jesp.1998.1373
[47] Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 613-629. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.52.6.613
[48] Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 797-811. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.69.5.797
[49] Stone, J. (2002). Battling doubt by avoiding practice: The effects of stereotype threat on self-handicapping in white athletes. Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1213-1227. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1213
[50] Stone, J., Lynch, C. I., Sjomeling, M., & Darley, J. M. (1999). Stereotype threat effects of Black and White athletic performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1213-1227. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1213
[51] Taylor, V. J., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Stereotype threat undermines actual learning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1055-1067. doi:10.1177/0146167211406506
[52] Voyer, D., & Isaacs, M. (1993). Sex differences in mental rotation: Role of practice and experience. Toronto: Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for Brian, and Cognitive Science.
[53] Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 250-270. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.2.250

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.