Negative gender stereotypes can have far-reaching consequences, affecting various aspects of individuals’ lives. A recent study published in Sex Roles sheds light on how these stereotypes can significantly impact the motor performance and learning of adolescent girls in sports. Researchers found that exposure to prolonged negative gender stereotypes can hinder skill development.
Previous research has shown that gender stereotypes can lead to a phenomenon known as stereotype threat. Stereotype threat occurs when individuals, aware of negative stereotypes about their group, experience anxiety or fear of confirming those stereotypes. This anxiety can hinder their performance, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The researchers in this study were motivated by a desire to understand how prolonged exposure to negative gender stereotypes could impact the motor performance and learning of adolescent girls. While previous studies had examined the effects of stereotype threat in various contexts, this research aimed to explore the consequences of repeated exposure to these stereotypes over an extended period.
“Our previous research (Mousavi et al., 2021; ‘You Kick Like A Girl!’ The Effects of Gender Stereotypes on Motor Skill Learning in Young Adolescents) showed that short exposure to negative gender stereotypes affected motor performance for approximately three days, and eventually, the effect disappeared,” explained study author Seyyed Mohammadreza Mousavi of the University of Isfahan.
“In fact, short-term exposure to negative stereotypes led to short-term outcomes. However, the single stereotype manipulation used in most studies may not be realistic and may not fully capture how negative stereotypes influence individuals in stereotyped societies. In reality, individuals may be exposed to stereotypical information many times a week via diverse sources, including advertisements, newspapers, or conversations.”
“Therefore, to gain a more comprehensive ecological understanding of the stereotype threat effect and its endurance, we investigated the impact of prolonged activation of gender stereotypes on the performance and learning of adolescent girls.”
To investigate the impact of negative gender stereotypes on girls’ sports performance, the researchers conducted a carefully designed study that last nearly two weeks. They recruited a group of 46 adolescent Iranian girls (average age 14) who were novice futsal players, a form of indoor soccer.
The participants were divided into two groups: one repeatedly exposed to stereotype threat (ST group) and another not exposed to stereotype threat (NS group). For example, girls in the ST group were told, “You are going to perform a task of natural athletic ability that has been shown to produce gender differences; boys have been shown to perform better on this task.” In addition, approximately 48 hours later, participants in the ST group received a card that suggested that men had historically dominated the sport. In contrast, girls the NS group were told that futsal is a sport where both men and women can perform equally well.
The researchers then conducted a manipulation check to ensure that the stereotype manipulations were effective. This involved asking participants questions related to gender and sports to gauge their beliefs and perceptions.
The girls’ kicking accuracy was assessed throughout the study, including during pre-tests, practice sessions, retention tests, and transfer tests. Pre-tests provided a baseline measure of kicking accuracy for both groups before any stereotype manipulations. Practice sessions allowed the researchers to observe changes in performance over time. Retention tests assessed the participants’ ability to retain their skills, while transfer tests evaluated their capacity to adapt their skills to new situations.
“Transfer ability is essential for inferring motor learning and assessing the adaptability of motor performance changes related to motor learning,” Mousavi explained.
During the practice sessions, the NS group showed improvement in their kicking accuracy over time, while the ST group did not. This suggests that exposure to stereotype threat hindered skill development in the latter group. It’s akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy where anxiety caused by stereotypes negatively affected their performance.
The negative effects of stereotype threat persisted over time. The NS group outperformed the ST group in both retention and transfer tests, indicating that the impact of gender stereotypes could have long-lasting consequences on motor performance. The study also highlighted that exposure to gender stereotypes hindered the participants’ ability to transfer their skills to new situations.
“Based on our findings, longer exposure (or living in a stereotyped society where the individual faces many stereotype-related cues) could act as an obstacle to progress and diminish the adaptability of the learner, this negative effect may be attached to the learner and be present in physical education classes, recreational sports, competitive sports, and even in areas unrelated to the source of threat,” Mousavi told PsyPost.
“Indeed, based on the stereotype threat spillover model (for a review, see Inzlicht et al., 2012), it is possible that threatened individuals experience short and/or long-term effects in areas unrelated to the source of threat. Therefore, raising awareness about stereotypes on a large scale through educational classes in schools and universities, television programs, and social media is crucial in countries with similar conditions. Such efforts can help to reduce the pernicious effects of stereotype threat not only in sports but also in various other areas of life.”
No study is without limitations, and this one is no exception. The researchers did not measure certain psychological and physiological variables, such as participants’ self-efficacy or emotional states. These factors can play a role in how individuals respond to stereotype threats. Additionally, the study focused on a specific sport (futsal) and a specific cultural context (Iran), so the results may not be universally applicable. Future research could explore these aspects more comprehensively.
Nevertheless, this study highlights the detrimental effects of prolonged exposure to negative gender stereotypes on the motor performance and learning of adolescent girls in sports. The research underscores the importance of raising awareness about gender stereotypes and implementing interventions to counteract their negative influence. By addressing these stereotypes and creating identity-safe environments, we can help girls and women perform to their full potential in sports and beyond.
The study, “Motor Skill Learning in Iranian Girls: Effects of a Relatively Long Induction of Gender Stereotypes“, was authored by Seyyed Mohammadreza Mousavi, Hamid Salehi, Takehiro Iwatsuki, Fateme Velayati, and Maxime Deshayes.