Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Are Women Being Scared Away From Math, Science, And Engineering Fields?

Date:
October 3, 2007
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Have you ever felt outnumbered? Like there are just not that many people like you around? One group that may experience this kind of threat is women who participate in math, science and engineering settings -- settings in which the gender ratio is approximately three men to every one woman. New research shows that when women feel outnumbered, their academic performance expectations and actual performance decreases.

Have you ever felt outnumbered? Like there are just not that many people like you around? We’ve all felt outnumbered in one situation or another and walking into a situation in which you sense the possibility of being ostracized or isolated can be quite threatening.

One group that may experience this kind of threat is women who participate in math, science, and engineering (MSE) settings- settings in which the gender ratio is approximately 3 men to every 1 woman. Recently, in the wake of comments made by former Harvard University President, Larry Summers, suggesting that women may not possess the same “innate ability” or “natural ability” in these fields as do men, several leading scientific institutions and university presidents publicly lamented the underrepresentation of women in Math, Science and Engineering fields and put out a call to study the reasons for the numbers gap in these areas.

While previous research offers biological and socialization explanations for differences in the performance and representation of men and women in these fields, Stanford psychologists, Mary Murphy and Claude Steele argue that the organization of Math, Science and Engineering environments themselves plays a significant role in contributing to this gap. Murphy contends that situational cues (i.e. being outnumbered) may contribute to a decrease in women’s performance expectations, as well as their actual performance.

Murphy and colleagues showed a group of advanced MSE undergraduates a gender balanced or unbalanced video depicting a potential MSE summer leadership conference. To assess identity threat, the researchers measured the participant’s physiological arousal during the video, cognitive vigilance, sense of belonging and desire to participate in the conference.

The results are telling. The women who watched the gender unbalanced video- where women were outnumbered by men in a 3 to 1 ratio- experienced faster heart rates, higher skin conductance (sweating), and reported a lower sense of belonging and less desire to participate in the conference.

They also found that women were more vigilant to their physical environment when they watched the video in which women were outnumbered. Throughout the testing room, Murphy planted cues related to Math, Science, and Engineering such as magazines like Science, Scientific American, and Nature on the coffee table and a portrait of Einstein and the periodic table on the walls. Women were able to recall more details about the video and the test room, indicating that they paid more attention to the identity-relevant items in order to assess the likelihood of encountering identity threat. “It would not be surprising if the general cognitive functioning of women in the threatening setting was inhibited because of this allocation of attention toward MSE-related cues,” write the authors. Thus, it is likely that this kind of attention allocation would interfere with performance and might help explain the performance gap between men and women in these fields.

While men, in either condition, showed no significant difference in physiological arousal, cognitive vigilance, or sense of belonging, both men and women expressed more desire to attend the conference when the ratio of men to women was balanced. Murphy says that while it’s interesting that both men and women want to be where the women are, the motivations of men and women for wanting to be there are probably quite different. “Women probably feel more identity-safe in the environment where there are more women- they feel that they really could belong there- while men might simply be attracted by the unusual number of women in these settings. Men just aren’t used to seeing that many women in these settings, because the numbers in real Math, Science, and Engineering settings are so unbalanced.”

These findings, which appear in the October issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, demonstrates that rather than being endemic to women the experience of identity threat in MSE settings is attributable the situation.

This research underlies the importance of situational cues and Murphy hopes that it will "inspire greater motivation to attend to such cues when creating and modifying environments so that they may foster perceptions of identity safety rather than threat."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Are Women Being Scared Away From Math, Science, And Engineering Fields?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071002131140.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2007, October 3). Are Women Being Scared Away From Math, Science, And Engineering Fields?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071002131140.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Are Women Being Scared Away From Math, Science, And Engineering Fields?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071002131140.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Scientists are tripping the elderly on purpose in a Chicago lab in an effort to better prevent seniors from falling and injuring themselves in real life. (Aug.28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) It’s an unusual condition with a colorful name. Kids with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome see sudden distortions in objects they’re looking at or their own bodies appear to change size, a lot like the main character in the Lewis Carroll story. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Scientists have long called choline a “brain booster” essential for human development. Not only does it aid in memory and learning, researchers now believe choline could help prevent mental illness. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive brain cancer in humans. Now a new treatment using the patient’s own tumor could help slow down its progression and help patients live longer. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins