Female scientists making headway in kids' imaginations

Female scientists making headway in kids' imaginations

When drawing scientists, USA children now depict female scientists more often than ever, according to new Northwestern University research, which analyzed five decades of "Draw-A-Scientist" studies conducted since the 1960s. Together, these analyses have asked more than 20,000 U.S. kids from kindergarten to high school to depict a researcher.

The researchers used literature databases such as Google Scholar to identify 78 studies of U.S. "Draw a Scientist" tests over the last 50 years. In addition, both girls and boys drew female scientists more often over time, though girls overall drew female scientists much more often than boys. A new meta-analysis reviewed five decades of "Draw a Scientist" tests to determine whether children's drawings have mirrored that change.

The first study on the topic was conducted from 1966 to 1977, and the results revealed that not even one percent of the 5,000 children involved associated the concept of a scientist with a female. "Prior studies have suggested that these gender-science stereotypes could shape girls" interests in science-related activities and careers'. A typical drawing showed a man in a lab coat with glasses and facial hair.

"Our results suggest that children's stereotypes change as women's and men's roles change in society", co-author Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, said in a statement.

This shift in perception is probably the result of an increasing number of women becoming scientists, and mass media - such as television shows and children's magazines - featuring female scientists more often, says lead author David Miller, a psychology researcher at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

In conducting their meta-analysis of USA children's gender-science stereotypes linking science with men, the researchers hypothesized that these stereotypes would weaken over time as women's representation in science grew stronger and media increasingly depicted females as scientists. But although stereotypes that associate men with science seem to have weakened over time, most United States children still see science as a male profession.

The new study, published in the Child Development journal, discovered that in studies completed since 1985, when children were asked to draw a scientist, almost a third of the drawings, or 28 percent, depicted female scientists. The studies included more than 20,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

But while the children were in elementary and middle school their tendency to depict male scientists "increased strongly".

"To build on cultural changes, teachers and parents should present children with multiple examples of female and male scientists across many contexts such as science courses, television shows and informal conversations", Uttal said.

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