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    Do Inferior Numbers Scare Women Away From Science And Engineering?
    By News Staff | October 2nd 2007 12:40 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    The gender ratio in math science and engineering is approximately 3 men to every 1 woman, say Stanford psychologists Mary Murphy and Claude Steele, and situational cues, like 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 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, demonstrate that rather than being endemic to women the experience of identity threat in MSE settings is attributable to 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."

    - Association For Psychological Science

    Comments

    Hank
    Is that 3:1 gender number accurate? I doubt it, though I am betting our man: woman writer ratio here is probably 7:3, so not far from 3:1.

    But is that an issue with the site? I have invited lots of women to write. The number of ignored email invitations from women is much higher than men and the only two people who demanded a salary in return for giving them 500,000 readers a month were women.

    I am not sure that merits any kind of statistical conclusion, though.

    I do think that two of these news releases in two weeks merits a real analysis on whether or not this is a problem, or if people are making it a problem.

    Torchwood
    lol Hank, it's a mute argument I'm glad that the fact that NO Men has given birth yet, does not demand that science should redress this imbalance. Of course though there may be some women who think that men should carry their fair share of the 'burden' through pregnancy, by enlarge women who become pregnant choose to do so - at least in the west, in this day and age - since the arrival of the contraceptive pill. So some imbalances are clearly natural more women than men spend more time at home raising children, even with equal paternity & maternity paid leave. Therefore there are less women in the 'workforce' - though clearly in equal opportunity France where being a housewife or mother is a 'career' in itself, there is no such anomaly, there are just different numbers of people in different careers or trades. Of course some men may now be having more facials and manicures, but beauty parlours still pander mostly to the female population. Of course men may use cologne & deodorants, but the perfume market still overwhelmingly targets women (or men buying it for women). Do less women enter science because there are less women in science, do less women enter finance/banking because there are less women in finance/banking, do less women enter law because there are less women in law, do less women enter the construction industry because there are less women in the construction industry? You may as well ask if less men enter dressmaking because there are less men in dressmaking, you might as well ask if less men enter nursing because there are less men in nursing, or you may as well ask do less men enter admin or secretarial posts, because there are less male secetaries Well possibly women can type faster than men, or simply that more women (in general) do typing and shorthand. Apart from giving birth, there are many other activities in society favoured by women or where women are in the majority Somehow male 'cheerleaders' for a female 'football team' doesn't quite make the cut - but hey, never say never. lol!