The gender gap in computer science may have been widened by Star Trek, a new study suggests — but it could be bridged with a less geeky image.
New research published in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that the stereotype of computer scientists as unwashed nerds may be partially responsible for the dearth of women in the field, as shown by National Science Foundation statistics.
“What this research shows is that the image of computer science — this geeky, masculine image — can make women feel like they don’t belong,” says lead author Sapna Cheryan of the University of Washington.
“I think this is an important contribution to the literature,” says Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton of the University of California, Berkeley. He says it raises questions about how much conscious control people have over their choices.
Previous research has found that a person can get a good sense of what another individual is like just from spending a few minutes perusing that person’s bedroom. Cheryan wondered if the same was true of classrooms.
“You can get a message about whether you want to join a certain group just by seeing the physical environment that that group is associated with,” Cheryan says. “You walk in, see these objects and think, ‘This is not me.’” ...