Weisgram, E., & Bigler, R. (2007). Effects of learning about gender discrimination on adolescent girls’ attitudes toward and interest in science. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 262-269.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of learning about gender discrimination in the sciences on girls’ attitudes toward and interest in science.
- The study included middle school girls who attended a conference designed to improve their attitudes toward and interest in science. Participants were randomly assigned to the treatment condition, which included standard conference sessions on science careers and a session on gender discrimination in the sciences, or to the control group that attended only the standard sessions. The authors administered pre- and post-conference surveys to measure the impact of the intervention.
- The study found significant increases in reported science self-efficacy and science utility value among the girls in the treatment condition, whereas girls in the control condition experienced a decrease in egalitarian attitudes toward science.
- The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is high because it was a well-implemented randomized controlled trial with low attrition. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the intervention and not to other factors.
Features of the Study
This study was a randomized controlled trial, including 158 girls ages 11 to 14 years old, of whom 62 were assigned to the treatment group and 96 were assigned to the control group. The study took place during a one-day “Expanding Your Horizons” conference designed to increase middle school girls’ interest in science.
Students in the treatment group participated in four one-hour sessions. Three of these sessions, each led by a female scientist, focused on the presenter’s career and included a hands-on science activity. A trained psychology graduate student led the fourth one-hour session, which defined gender discrimination in the sciences, described how gender discrimination affected female scientists, and highlighted four female scientists who had encountered gender discrimination over the course of their careers. Students in the control group participated in four one-hour sessions led by female scientists, all focusing on their careers and including a hands-on science activity.
The authors administered pre- and post-conference attitudinal surveys to the treatment and control group members. The surveys included items measuring participants’ perceptions of gender discrimination; task-specific attitudes (egalitarian attitudes toward science, scientific self-efficacy, and science’s utility value); interest in science; and estimates of female representation in science.
- The study found that self-efficacy increased among girls in the treatment condition but not in the control condition.1
- The study found that girls in the treatment condition rated the utility value of science significantly higher in the post-survey than in the pre-survey, whereas girls in the control condition exhibited no difference across surveys.
- The study found that the average level of egalitarian attitudes toward science decreased significantly among girls in the control, but not the treatment, condition.
- The study found no pre- or post-test differences in interest in science for girls in either group.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors noted that the topic of the conference likely attracted girls who already had an increased interest in science. In addition, the authors surmised that by giving the study participants a survey at the beginning of the conference, they became aware of the point of the study and might have adjusted their responses on the survey administered after the study to conform to researchers’ expectations.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is high because it was a well-implemented randomized controlled trial with low attrition. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the conference content, and not to other factors.