Who Likes Computer Science? How Gender Stereotypes about Interest Shape Children's Motivation

Who Likes Computer Science? How Gender Stereotypes about Interest Shape Children's Motivation


More than 300 8-12-year-old children in Seattle will participate in lab studies that a) measure how stereotypes that "boys like this more than girls" affect girls' interest in STEM activities, and b) intervene to counter these real-world stereotypes.


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivation and capacities to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by preparing and interesting elementary- and middle-school students for STEM courses/programs in high school and eventually in STEM careers. This project is significant because it will deepen the understanding of the importance of interest stereotypes (stereotypes about who shows interest in STEM) and how they influence students' motivation to pursue STEM. The project seeks to address the following objectives: (1) to examine how interest stereotypes affect girls' motivation; (2) to study whether interest stereotypes have a stronger negative impact than ability stereotypes on motivation for computer science; and (3) explore whether it is possible to intervene to reduce the impact of interest stereotypes. The findings will have implications for many fields conducting research that aims to reduce educational inequalities linked to stereotypes. This research has the potential to lead to more powerful interventions to help children resist such stereotypes and remain open to pursuing interests in STEM. Another major contribution of this work is to advance social identity theory beyond stereotype threat research on ability stereotypes. The project impact broadens the focus in STEM education by designing real-world interventions that can intervene at the root of the problem to counteract stereotypes and promote STEM motivation. In addition, the project will promote the use of the Open Science Framework to allow free sharing of the data and materials. It will help give students the tools they need to resist interest stereotypes and promote their interest in STEM, help teachers identify the most powerful messages to send their students to boost their motivation for STEM, and use an educational outreach network to connect and share findings broadly, with educators, policymakers, and the entire community of stakeholders working to promote students' motivation in STEM.

The research will examine how interest stereotypes influence 8-12-year-old children's motivation for computer science. The focus on computer science is due to its low representation of women and highly stereotyped nature. Several experiments will test (a) how interest stereotypes about gender groups impact girls' motivation for novel activities, (b) the impact of interest stereotypes vs. ability stereotypes for computer science activities with girls and boys, and (c) a novel intervention to reduce the impact of interest stereotypes and promote girls' computer science motivation, by linking existing gender differences to environmental structures rather than inherent group differences. The project provides rigorous, theoretically-based research, which is evident through the inclusion of power analysis, reference to previously validated instruments, and reporting of psychometrics. The results will deepen understanding of the importance of interest stereotypes and how they influence children's motivation to pursue STEM, and will lay the groundwork for future interventions that directly target interest stereotypes to boost girls' motivation in computer science.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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2018 - 2021



University of Washington Seattle, WA

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