Sat. May 28th, 2022

Kate Quigley was a finalist in the Queensland Women In Stem Prize 2020 for her work in helping corals withstand rising sea temperatures. Photo

Even children as young as six can develop ideas that girls do not like computer science and technology as much as boys – stereotypes that are transmitted to adolescence and contribute to gender differences at university, according to a study published in PNAS.

‘Stereotypes about gender interests that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are for boys begin in elementary school, and by the time they reach high school, many girls have made their decision not to take a degree in computer science and engineering because they feel , that they do not belong, “says lead author Allison Master, of the University of Houston.

The study involved four different experiments to assess the beliefs of a racially diverse sample of children and teens throughout school. Instead of examining who children perceived as ‘good’ for STEM subjects, they examined who children thought Liked them, which may affect children’s sense of belonging and willingness to participate in STEM-related activities.

NASA Goddard is hosting young women for STEM Girls Night In. Photo NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The researchers found that more than half of the children (51 percent) thought that girls were less interested in computer science than boys, and two-thirds thought that girls enjoyed engineering less than boys – even in children as young as six years old. By comparison, only 14 percent thought girls liked computer science better than boys did, and nine percent thought the same about technology.

The children were then given various activities to see if their beliefs influenced what they chose to participate in.

They found out when girls was told the boys liked it better, only 35 percent of the girls attended. On the other hand, when the children were told that boys and girls like computer science as much as each other, 65 percent of the girls chose to join.

‘The big studies told us that the children had absorbed the cultural stereotype that girls are less interested in computer science and technology. In the experiments, we focused on causal mechanisms and consequences of stereotypes, ‘says co-author Andrew Meltzoff from the University of Washington.

“We discovered that feeling an activity in a stereotypical way affected children’s interest in it and their willingness to take it home – just the presence of the stereotype affected children in dramatic ways. This brought us the harmful effect of stereotypes on children and teenagers. ‘

Ultimately, this means that many girls chose not to participate in computer science or engineering activities because they felt they did not belong.

“Current gender differences in computer science and engineering careers are worrying because these careers are lucrative, high-status, and affect so many aspects of our daily lives,” said co-author Sapna Cheryan of the University of Washington.

‘The lack of gender and racial diversity in these areas may be one of the reasons why many products and services have had negative consequences for women and people of color.’

Researchers say the study could be used to understand why a child is motivated to attend or avoid a class. They also note that parents and teachers can help counteract these stereotypes by supporting and encouraging girls’ interests in STEM subjects from an early age.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, and the Bezos Family Foundation.

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