Feeds

Blokey atmos drives women away from sci/tech

Too much test-tube waving

Build a business case: developing custom apps

A PhD student at Stanford has published research indicating that the low numbers of women in science, maths and engineering-related fields is not caused by any gender-related tendency to be bad at hard sums. Rather, the ladies avoid these fields of endeavour simply because there are so few females already present, and because of the nasty blokey environment thus engendered.

Mary Murphy, working towards a doctorate in social psychology, led research on both male and female undergraduates from the tricky-calculations departments. The test students were shown videos of a pretend summer boffinry conference in their subject areas. One video depicted a dream world in which such a conference was 50-50 gender balanced; the other showed a more realistic scenario with three blokes to every woman.

The undergrads were wired up to sensors while watching the vids, and had to answer questions. The tests were designed to measure "physiological arousal... vigilance... sense of belonging and desire to participate in the conference".

"The results are telling," says the press release. It appears that the women watching the realistic video swarming with men experienced faster heartbeats and began to sweat. They also became "more vigilant to their physical environment".

It appears that even relatively innocuous signs of a hard-sciences kind of atmos around a place can be a problem.

"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," according to the release. Women students already upset by the male-dominated video apparently noticed these a lot. Murphy theorises that these scary masculine posters and mags may have drained the ladies' flustered brains of what little capacity they had left. This could be why girls - who normally ace boys at school - still lag behind the chaps in the boffinous subjects.

"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 maths, science and engineering-related cues," Murphy wrote.

Curiously, neither of the vids made the chaps in the test group get sweaty or aroused. However, unsurprisingly they - like the women - would have preferred to attend the conference that had all the girls.

Murphy - clearly no fool - reportedly 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." (Mental head slap.)

The paper resulting from all this is called Signaling Threat: How Situational Cues Affect Women in Math, Science, and Engineering Settings. It's published in the October issue of Psychological Science, which is "ranked among the top ten general psychology journals for impact", apparently.

The journal scribes reckon the research demonstrates that ladies' fear/dislike of maths, science, engineering etc - and thus their under-representation in these fields - is not "endemic to women". Rather, it is "attributable to the situation".

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".

Or in other words, girls would beat boys at maths too if they didn't keep putting up their horrid Einstein posters, periodic tables and other tools of masculine dominance. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.