GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 284-11
Presentation Time: 11:05 AM


GUSTOVICH, Kristina1, GEARY, Edward2 and HANLEY, Daniel2, (1)Geology, Western Washington University, 516 High St., Bellingham, WA 98225, (2)Science, Mathematics, & Technology Education, Western Washington University, 516 High St., MS-9126, Bellingham, WA 98225,

Stereotype threat in the geosciences is often associated with spatial reasoning abilities and disproportionately affects women. This study examines how a student’s mindset may mediate or amplify the effects of stereotype threat in regards to self-perception of spatial skills and their learning of Milankovitch Cycles. Milankovitch Cycles, an integral, orbital-scale component of Earth’s climate systems, are visualized through the processes of mental rotation and perspective taking.

Undergraduate, introductory-level Geology students at Western Washington University were given a Milankovitch Cycle pre- and post-test, spatial reasoning test, and assessment of their own spatial reasoning abilities. Regression analyses were performed to examine if the message, “The results of the Spatial Reasoning Task usually show a difference in performance by gender. It is thought that men tend to outperform women on spatial reasoning tasks,” triggered statistically significant differences in content-specific performance and perceptions of content mastery.

Preliminary results show that students with higher scores on the spatial reasoning test also scored higher on the Milankovitch Cycle Post-Test; spatial reasoning skills are required for content learning. Participants in the control and treatment group earned similar scores on the post-test, signifying that the message does not necessarily affect performance. However, the self-assessments showed that the treatment statement did affect perception of capabilities. Women in the treatment group with a growth mindset had higher perceptions of their abilities than those with a fixed mindset. Men in the treatment group with a fixed mindset showed higher perceptions of their abilities than those with a growth mindset, likely due to stereotype lift.

Students’ mindsets can exacerbate or mediate stereotype threat and stereotype lift. These findings highlight the importance of eradicating stereotyped messages in academic and professional settings.