Tuesday, July 09, 2013

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In Study, Pseudonyms Help Women Defy Stereotype Threat

Pseudonyms and gender stereotypes

According to a recent study, pseudonyms seem to help women overcome gender stereotypes, at least in some situations. In the experiment, researchers gave a group of men and women a math test, and at the start, informed them beforehand that women tend tend to perform poorly on it. This is what's known as “stereotype threat”, which usually impedes the performance of the minority being stereotyped (women, in this case). However, the researchers found this wasn't the case when the women took the subsequent test using a pseudonym:

[W]omen who took the test under someone else’s name, be it male or female, performed better than women who performed under their own name, and they did just as well as the men. The effect was stronger for women who cared more about maths. By separating their performance from their own identity, it seems the women performing under an alias no longer felt pressure to avoid being seen as an example of the harmful gender stereotype.

More on the study here. Its focus was on women and stereotypes, but having interacted with pseudonymous avatars for so long, I think a similar phenomenon would apply to others who endure equally burdensome stereotypes. And to me, it suggests yet another value to pseudonyms worth exploring more, not just in virtual worlds and online games, but in every other field where people deserve to shine apart from stereotypes. That is to say, all of them.

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Arcadia Codesmith

I feel vindicated on several fronts, but particularly on the "girls are inherently worse at math" front.

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