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‘Feminine’ Science Catches Girls’ Interest

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Published on Wednesday, 02 March 2011

What makes scientific topics personally relevant and thus interesting to girls? Dr. Sylvie Kerger, Prof. Romain Martin and Asst.-Prof. Martin Brunner of the University of Luxembourg found that the reason girls are less interested in science than boys is that scientific topics are commonly presented in a male context.

When scientific concepts in physics, information technology, and statistics were presented in a female friendly way – as for example relating to online shopping or cosmetic surgery - the mean level of girls’ interest rose. However, the boys’ interest in these topics simultaneously decreased.

“Scientific topics presented in a context that is stereotypically considered to be feminine are relevant for girls’ gender identity per se. An engagement in these topics does not represent a threat to their self-perception and self-symbolisation as being feminine”, the researchers note in their article in the British Journal of Educational Psychology.

Outer Space vs. Rain Forest

This study was conducted with boys and girls in Luxembourgish state schools. The students were presented with the scenario of visiting a new school and asked to rate the interestingness of topics that would be taught in class. Girls showed considerably more interest in topics such as “how a laser is used in cosmetic surgery” and “how to calculate the probability of a miscarriage” than in topics such as “how to calculate the force a rocket needs to take off” and “how to calculate the probability of a car accident”.

One of the authors, Dr. Sylvie Kerger, said that girls were more interested in social and real contexts such as the decline of forests whereas boys clearly found mechanics and technology more compelling. “However,” she added, “establishing gender-specific science classes might not work for every student.” She suggests that schools should offer science modules dealing with the same concepts but presenting them in different ways.

The authors Dr. Sylvie Kerger, Prof. Romain Martin and Asst.-Prof. Martin Brunner lecture at the Center for Educational Measurement and Applied Cognitive Science (EMACS) at the University of Luxembourg in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg.