Stout, J., Dasgupta, N., Hunsinger, M., & McManus, M. (2011). STEMing the tide: Using in-group experts to inoculate women’s self-concept in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 255-270. [one of three studies described in a single report]
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of reading a paragraph-long biography of a female engineer on female engineering majors’ implicit and explicit attitudes toward math and English, their self-efficacy in engineering, their identification with the engineers in the assigned text, and their intention to pursue a career in engineering.
- The study used computerized tasks to measure outcomes for female students who read a paragraph-long biography of a female engineer compared with those of female students who read either (1) biographies of male engineers or (2) a description of engineering innovations with no mention of the engineer’s gender.
- The study found that attitudes of female students who read the female biography did not favor math over English or vice versa, whereas those who read the male biography or the description of engineering innovations demonstrated negative implicit attitudes toward math and a preference for English over math.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to reading a paragraph-long biography about female engineers, and not to other factors.
Features of the Study
A total of 101 female undergraduates majoring in engineering at a large university in the United States were randomly assigned to one of three groups in a laboratory setting. The first group read paragraph-long biographies of five female engineers; a picture of the engineer accompanied each biography. The second group read the same biographies as the first group, though all references and photographs were changed to male engineers. In the control condition, participants were provided with images and descriptions of five engineering innovations, extracted from the biographies used in the treatment group. The gender of the engineers responsible for the engineering innovation was not specified.
Immediately after reading the assigned texts, the participants completed a computerized survey to measure their implicit and explicit attitudes toward math and English, their self-efficacy in engineering, identification with the engineers in the assigned text, and their intention to pursue a career in engineering. The authors conducted statistical tests and estimated regression models to evaluate differences in the outcomes across the three groups.
- The study found that students who read the male biographies or the gender-neutral descriptions of engineering innovations demonstrated a preference for English over math. In contrast, students who read the female biographies had no preference between math and English. The difference between the treatment and control conditions was statistically significant.
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects on self-efficacy or intention to pursue an engineering career.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors estimated multiple related impacts on outcomes related to attitudes toward STEM. Performing multiple statistical tests on related outcomes makes it more likely that some impacts will be found statistically significant purely by chance and not because they reflect program effectiveness. The authors did not perform statistical adjustments to account for the multiple tests, so the number of statistically significant findings in these domains is likely to be overstated.
Further, the intervention was conducted in a single setting such that it is possible that the effects of the intervention might fade over time. Given that no pre-test was administered, we do not know how much the baseline attitudes changed due to the intervention across the treatment and control groups and cannot draw conclusions about how long we would expect the intervention effects to last.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to reading about female engineers, and not to other factors.
Stout, J., Dasgupta, N., Hunsinger, M., & McManus, M. (2010). STEMing the tide: Using in-group experts to inoculate women’s self-concept in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.