Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA.
Science (Impact Factor: 33.61). 11/2010; 330(6008):1234-7. DOI: 10.1126/science.1195996
Source: PubMed


In many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, women are outperformed by men in test scores, jeopardizing their success in science-oriented courses and careers. The current study tested the effectiveness of a psychological intervention, called values affirmation, in reducing the gender achievement gap in a college-level introductory physics class. In this randomized double-blind study, 399 students either wrote about their most important values or not, twice at the beginning of the 15-week course. Values affirmation reduced the male-female performance and learning difference substantially and elevated women's modal grades from the C to B range. Benefits were strongest for women who tended to endorse the stereotype that men do better than women in physics. A brief psychological intervention may be a promising way to address the gender gap in science performance and learning.

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    • "There is evidence that self-affirmation eliminates or reduces the performance detriment that usually results from stereotype threat (Martens et al., 2006). Self-affirmation can have surprisingly lasting consequences: in one study, writing about their most important values twice at the beginning of a 15-week college course in physics reduced the gender gap considerably and elevated the modal grade of women from C to B (Miyake et al., 2010). In the scientific arena, affirmation can again invoke the fact that scientists enjoy considerable trust in the population at large. "
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    ABSTRACT: Vested interests and political agents have long opposed political or regulatory action in response to climate change by appealing to scientific uncertainty. Here we examine the effect of such contrarian talking points on the scientific community itself. We show that although scientists are trained in dealing with uncertainty, there are several psychological reasons why scientists may nevertheless be susceptible to uncertainty-based argumentation, even when scientists recognize those arguments as false and are actively rebutting them. Specifically, we show that prolonged stereotype threat, pluralistic ignorance, and a form of projection (the third-person effect) may cause scientists to take positions that they would be less likely to take in the absence of outspoken public opposition. We illustrate the consequences of seepage from public debate into the scientific process with a case study involving the interpretation of temperature trends from the last 15 years. We offer ways in which the scientific community can detect and avoid such inadvertent seepage.
    Global Environmental Change 07/2015; 33. DOI:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.02.013 · 5.09 Impact Factor
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    • "The group at Colorado was able to reduce the gender gap in course grades and FMCE scores with a brief values-affirmation exercise [43]. This was not, however, easy to replicate at the same institution [44]. "
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    ABSTRACT: In this article, we draw on previous reports from physics, science education, and women's studies to propose a more nuanced treatment of gender in physics education research (PER). A growing body of PER examines gender differences in participation, performance, and attitudes toward physics. We have three critiques of this work: (1) it does not question whether the achievements of men are the most appropriate standard, (2) individual experiences and student identities are undervalued, and (3) the binary model of gender is not questioned. Driven by these critiques, we propose a conception of gender that is more up-to-date with other fields and discuss gender-as-performance as an extended example. We also discuss work on the intersection of identities [e.g., gender with race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) status], much of which has been conducted outside of physics. Within PER, some studies examine the intersection of gender and race, and identify the lack of a single identity as a key challenge of "belonging" in physics. Acknowledging this complexity enables us to further critique what we term a binary gender deficit model. This framework, which is implicit in much of the gender-based PER, casts gender as a fixed binary trait and suggests that women are deficient in characteristics necessary to succeed. Alternative models of gender allow a greater range and fluidity of gender identities, and highlight deficiencies in data that exclude women's experiences. We suggest new investigations that diverge from this expanded gender framework in PER.
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    • "We hoped that the short-term effects of success during goal pursuit might result in positive long-term effects, in a " recursive virtuous cycle " of study success (Walton and Cohen, 2011). Given that the intervention specifically targeted personal goal pursuit (including that associated with academic performance), which is logically related to important subsidiary factors such as time on task, assignment completion and exam attendance, we also expected that its effects would manifest themselves sooner than those produced by other less direct interventions relating to social belonging or values affirmation (Miyake et al., 2010). We therefore report here the results of a structured written goal-setting intervention, completed online; this was aimed at enhancing the performance of lower-performing students, and was applied to a large population of students, followed over a 2-year period. "
    06/2015; 1:15014. DOI:10.1057/palcomms.2015.14
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