Science Stereotypes and Threats

One thing that I thought of while writing yesterday’s mammoth post about scientific thinking and stereotypes was the notion of stereotype threat, the psychological phenomenon where students who are reminded of negative stereotypes right before a test tend to score worse than they do when taking the test without the negative reminder. This is a hot topic in education research at the moment, and it seems like EurekAlert throws me about one press release a week relating to the topic (or, at least, it seemed that way before I got too bust to keep up with EurekAlert).

I ended up not throwing it in because the post was really long, and I figured there was a decent chance of the entire conversation getting derailed into an argument about stereotype threat rather than science in general. I am still curious about something (in an idle way, at least), which is whether anyone has looked at the effect of stereotypes about science as a whole. That is, science is the subject of lots of not very positive stereotypes in society at large, and I wonder if anybody has looked at the effect those would have.

The imaginary-social-science version of this would be to take a large population of students right before a science test, and show half of them something presenting a positive and uplifting portrayal of science as something anyone can do– historical anecdotes about enthusiastic amateurs advancing science, or some press release from one of the current citizen science projects– while the other half get something showing science as something only done by nerds and freaks– any number of popular biographies of famous physicists and mathematicians, some of the lesser episodes of “The Big Bang Theory”– and see what effect this has on their scores. You’d need to go for a relatively low level, probably early high school, so that you don’t get students who have already self-selected as scientists, but it might be interesting.

Or it might not. Or it might already have been done. I figured I would throw that out there, though, because I’m sure there are people reading ScienceBlogs who have vastly better knowledge of the relevant literature than I do. So: good idea, bad idea, been done?

Comments

  1. #1 JM
    March 11, 2011

    Stereo-type threat research tends to relate to ethnicity/race or gender because it concerns social groups.

    Here’s one well-known study about women and math.

    http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/carnegie/learning_resources/LAW_PGCHE/SteeleandQuinnStereotypeThreat.pdf

    And, a follow-up study: http://www.socqrl.niu.edu/myers/math%20scores.pdf

    In following the string of posts and comments that began with “Everybody thinks scientifically,” I’ve noticed, and found personally, that there are so many issues this sentence touches on…

    Like, “hard” vs “soft” sciences and preconceptions about either…

    Different ways of thinking or approaching a problem- analytic reasoning, intuition, emotions… And, these are just a few.

    This is to say in a round about way that your posts and the comments have been thought-provoking. Thanks.

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