We Are What We Think, Ladies


File this under: Mind over matter. A recent study Montana State University found that women — traditionally self-deprecating to a fault — can be fooled into promoting themselves. Because in not-so-new news, women aren’t as good as men at selling their their qualifications and successes to others. (How many females do you know who AREN’T fearful of touting their accomplishments because they’re afraid it will make them look arrogant? Yet we’re so quick to criticize ourselves and others!)

In the study, women were asked to write a self-review with the promise of up to $5,000 in reward for their thoughts. Some participants were put in a room with a hoax ”subliminal noise generator” black box they were told made an irritating sound they could only hear subconsciously (it totally didn’t); some weren’t. The results? Those who were in the black box room made up to $1,000 more than girls who were in the regular room. Why? The researchers think this fake black box subliminally distracted them from the task at hand, so that any nervousness they felt writing about themselves was transferred to, essentially, the “irritation” they felt about the “noise machine.”

Enter stereotype threats: Just this past weekend I was listening to an old podcast from NPR’s RadioLab that described a similar phenomenon: women’s well-documented floundering in math compared to men. The show’s hosts discussed a study which found that when men and women with the same qualifications were put in the same room with the same math test, the women performed significantly worse than the men. But in that same room when the class was told before taking the test that women always have and always will perform as well as men on this particular exam, the girls performed just as well as the boys.


Like so much of life, we really are what we think. So if we women want to be quants or physicists or heart surgeons or chemists, we’re totally capable. Or if we’ve been working hard at our job for the past two years, we probably deserve that raise (and should demand it!). We just need to start believing in ourselves and stop with the negative talk — both to ourselves and others around us.


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