Washington, June 23 (ANI): An international study involving more than half a million participants in 34 countries has revealed that about 70 per cent people harbour implicit stereotypes linking science with males more than with females.
Reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study has also shown that in countries whose citizens stereotyped most strongly, boys achieved at a higher level in eighth-grade science and maths.
Experts behind the study now think that implicit stereotypes may contribute to continuing underachievement and under-participation among girls and women in science, compared to their male peers.
"We found a general tendency, across every country that we investigated, that people on average have an easier time associating science concepts with male, rather than with female," said Brian Nosek, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.
"We correlated our data with a measure of actual science achievement among eighth-graders in those 34 countries and found that in the countries with the largest sex gap - where the boys were performing much better than girls in math and science - there also was the strongest implicit stereotyping of science as a male endeavour," added the lead investigator.
The study report reveals that the science and math achievement scores across nations came from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and were compared with the implicit stereotype data collected through Project Implicit.
The researchers said that there was no gender gap in the tendency to implicitly stereotype science as male. According to them, male and female study participants showed equally strong associations of science with males.
Among nations represented in the study, the US falls roughly in the middle of the pack in stereotyping science as male, and in the actual achievement of boys compared to girls at the eighth-grade level.
Participants in the gender and science study were asked to quickly categorize words representing male, such as "he," "son" and "father"; or female, such as "she," "daughter" and "mother," with science; such as "physics," "biology" and "chemistry"; or liberal arts, such as "arts," "history" or "literature."
The researchers observed that most participants were able to more quickly categorize male words with science items than female words with the same science words.
According to them, a dozen years of research and hundreds of published studies suggest that people have implicit belief systems that may differ from their declared beliefs. They say that these implicit beliefs are related to behaviour, such as interracial behaviour, voting and even drug use.
Anthony Greenwald, one of the researchers on the current study, has revealed that a recent meta-analysis has provided evidence of the relationship between the Implicit Association Test and a variety of behaviours from more than 100 studies.
"Participants are often surprised to learn that they may have unconscious biases involving gender or race or religion that are quite different from their stated beliefs," said Fred Smyth, a co-investigator on the study and research assistant professor at the University of Virginia.
This divergence between implicit and explicit beliefs, and the relation of both to behaviour, suggests that behaviour is influenced both by deliberate, explicit beliefs and by automatic, implicit reactions.
"We believe that implicit stereotypes and sex gaps in science achievement are mutually reinforcing mechanisms. When people see patterns, such as men more often working in scientific fields and women more often in non-scientific fields, then a bias may develop in their minds that men may be better equipped to succeed in those fields, and women less so. Simultaneously, possessing a gender stereotype about science might affect one's own behaviour toward others or considerations of one's own potential or career options," Nosek said
"Culture is a powerful force for shaping the beliefs and behaviour of its members. Even if one's explicit beliefs change, the cultural residue may persist in memory and continue to influence behaviour," Nosek added.
Despite the fact that women and girls achieve more success in the sciences, and enter these fields in ever greater numbers, the researchers believe that underlying stereotypes that more often link men with science may persist.
"If countries want to increase their competitiveness in science and engineering, they might want to look at their social environments, the social factors like implicit stereotypes that exist at a cultural level, and how this might inhibit women - who comprise more than half their intellectual pool - from contributing to scientific and engineering advancement," Nosek said. (ANI)